Of 3,200 Fauci emails, none from Pritzker administration

By Greg Bishop | The Center Square, June 7, 2021

(The Center Square) – Of more than 3,200 pages of emails released through the Freedom of Information Act to and from Dr. Anthony Fauci, there are none from the Pritzker administration.

More than a year ago, on Sunday, April 26, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker talked about his relationship with Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Personally, I think Dr. Fauci has been a very reliable source of information,” Pritzker said during that news conference over a year ago. “I have spoken with him directly, one-on-one a couple of times directly.”

But, a search of more than 3,200 pages of Fauci’s emails during the pandemic published by BuzzFeed last week, The Center Square reporters didn’t find any communication from the Pritzker administration with Fauci or staff.

There are emails forwarded to Fauci by his staff from Chicago’s public health director asking about coordination with federal officials in the early weeks of the pandemic.

“How will the necessary public health workforce expansion (e.g. for wide-scale case investigation, contact tracing, linkage to care, community testing, and vaccination) be supported at the federal level?” an April 22, 2020 email from Allison Arwady to Patricia Conrad that was forwarded to Fauci.

Arwady had a series of questions.

“Given the need to quickly expand our workforce and plan ahead, it would be very helpful to get a sense of: a. How much funding/support might be available, and how that will be determined b. Whether funding might come through HHS/CDC (our preferred mechanism), FEMA, or another mechanism c. Will support be available in weeks or months … and for how long-we are strongly advocating for 5 years, similar to what was done for Ebola,” the email says. “I deeply appreciate Dr. Fauci taking the time to meet with us directly and hear our concerns.”

Fauci forwarded a response to then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and copied Awardy.

“This question evolved from a teleconference that I had 2 nights ago with people ‘in the trenches,'” Fauci said. “I can discuss this with you today at the Task Force meeting.”

Pritzker said more than a year ago Fauci was a “very reliable source of information.”

“I rely on the guidance I hear from him,” Pritzker said then.

Pritzker’s office didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday about whether the administration still has confidence in the information he got from Fauci.

Other emails released through public records requests have some elected officials in Illinois critical of guidance they say seems tainted by feelings, not science.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, Friday said throughout the pandemic, he also relied on guidance from Fauci. But that’s changed.

“When you look at some of the emails, you look at some of the recommendations, right now they clearly don’t follow science and data that we know about this disease now,” Davis told WMAY. “They follow feelings, they follow politics and we’ve got to change that in Washington and frankly all levels of government.”

In one email dated Feb. 5, 2020, Fauci responds to a question from a sender asking about whether to mask when traveling to a redacted location.

“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci wrote. “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you. I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a vey low risk location.”

Davis also said the emails indicate early on stories about a possible lab leak were throttled by social media companies, raising further concerns about the role of politics in decisions around managing the pandemic.

In one email Fauci forwarded to a staffer on Feb. 22, 2020, saying “Please handle,” someone raised concern of a “possibility that the virus was released from a lab in wuhan, the biotech area of china.”

In another email, dated April 19, 2020, Fauci responds to Peter Daszak, “Many thanks for your kind note.”

Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance whose nonprofit has funded coronavirus research in China, sent Fauci a note the day before thanking him “for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Parts of that email are redacted.

“From my perspective, your comments are brave, and coming from your trusted voice, will help dispel the myths being spun around the virus’ origins,” Daszak said.

Seattle mayor sued over missing text messages related to summer protests

By Tim Gruver | The Center Square, June 4, 2021

(The Center Square) – Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is being sued by the Seattle Times for allegedly mishandling public records concerning the city’s handling of last summer’s protests against police brutality.

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on Thursday and concerns text messages sent from Durkan’s city-issued iPhone between Aug. 2019 and June 25, 2020. That timeframe includes the period in which mass protests began in Seattle following the killing of George Floyd on May 25. A whistleblower complaint filed against the mayor’s office last month alleges they were not retained.

In its lawsuit, the Times is seeking compensation from the city to cover its legal fees, the records requested, and steps to ensure public records do not go missing again.

When the paper filed the complaint, Durkan’s chief of staff claimed their deletion was due to an “unknown technology issue.” The mayor’s office has since said the texts were deleted automatically on one of Durkan’s city-issued phones after 30 days. It is unknown who was responsible for inputting that setting.

Many of those texts were directly related to five public records requests filed by the Seattle Times. They center on the mayor’s instructions to city agencies about engaging with the media and her exchanges with the Seattle Police Department on the use of tear gas.

The requested texts were also sent during the period when Seattle’s Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone was in full swing. During that time, the Seattle Police abandoned the East Precinct building amid the gathered crowds. A 19-year-old man was shot to death in the area where Seattle police and paramedics allegedly failed to intervene. His family has filed a wrongful death claim against the city for $3 billion.

“In a democracy, it’s the public’s right to know who is making decisions at City Hall and why—whether it’s about spending tax dollars or shifting police tactics or anything else,” said Seattle Times Executive Editor Matassa Flores. “It should not take months or years for elected officials and public servants to explain their actions. And important records should not be destroyed.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Seattle has warned requesters from The Center Square and other news outlets of months-long delays in granting public records requests due to an alleged backlog of requests.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long list of political liabilities for Durkan since the one-term mayor announced she would seek a second term this fall. Her time in office has been marked by controversies such as her support for sweeps of homeless camps, her approach to the city’s housing crisis and police brutality.

A founding member of the Seattle Police Foundation, Durkan served as the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington from 2009 to 2017. She was elected mayor in 2017, winning 56% of the vote and beating Seattle architect Cary Moon. A recall petition against Durkan failed in court last fall.

Dan Nolte, a spokesperson with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said in a statement the city intends to review the lawsuit and will respond accordingly.

DeSantis blasts China, signs Florida corporate espionage bill into law

By John Haughey | The Center Square contributor, June 7, 2021

(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday two bills that toughen penalties for stealing trade secrets and impose greater disclosure requirements on sources of foreign grants for university, medical and high-tech researchers.

The bills were a response to DeSantis’ pre-legislative session call for lawmakers to adopt legislation to thwart attempts to infiltrate agencies and universities by agents from seven “foreign adversary” nations: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

The most direct target of the bills, however, is China, especially after revelations the past two years that the Confucian Institute, oft-cited as a source of Chinese “plants” to harvest research data, was grant-funding programs in several Florida schools, including Miami-Dade College.

Other incidents involve a former University of Florida professor charged with fraud in February for allegedly accepting a federal research grant while concealing Chinese sources of financing, and Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center administrators being ousted for alleged failure to disclose receiving money from Chinese sources to recruit U.S. researchers to work in China.

“There is no single entity that exercises a more pervasive, nefarious influence across a wide range of American industries and institutions than the Communist Party of China,” DeSantis said Monday in Miami as he signed the Combating Corporate Espionage in Florida Act into law.

“All we are doing today,” he said, “is saying enough is enough. We have to start fighting back. Florida is doing that.”

The Combating Corporate Espionage in Florida Act, House Bill 1523, was sponsored by Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia. It amends trade-secret theft definitions and crimes in state law.

Under the law, “trafficking in trade secrets” is a second-degree felony. If an investigation reveals the crime was committed to benefit a foreign government, it would be a first-degree felony.

The new law allows private individuals and corporations to seek compensation in state courts for stolen trade secrets and updates the state’s obsolete codes to accommodate advances in technology, Beltran said in HB 1523’s committee hearings.

The second bill DeSantis signed Monday requires state universities and colleges to disclose grants and donations of more than $50,000 from foreign governments and implements a slate of review requirements.

House Bill 7017, sponsored Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, requires complete disclosure of grant sources and prohibits some agreements between state agencies and universities with the seven “countries of concern:” China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

The new law mandates universities with research budgets over $10 million to perform more extensive screening of foreign applicants for research positions and apply more scrutiny on foreign travel and activities by grant recipients.

The law also prohibits donations “conditioned on a program to promote the language and culture of any of seven countries of concern” and would protect whistleblowers.

As he did during a Friday news conference and in various media appearances over the weekend, DeSantis accused China of trying to “cover up the origins of COVID-19,” arguing it’s “almost impossible” it developed naturally.

“It’s pretty clear that this was a virus that almost assuredly leaked out of this lab in Wuhan,” DeSantis said. “This is a lab where these scientists were working closely with the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese military.”

China never asked other nations for assistance and failed to give other nations a warning about the emerging pandemic, DeSantis said.

“They tried to cover it up, and basically the world has had to endure over a year and a half of a lot of bad stuff as a result of this,” he said. “So, they covered it up and they need to be held accountable for this.

Pennsylvania health officials say recent flu season was one of mildest on record

By Natalie Kapustik | The Center Square contributor, June 7, 2021

(The Center Square) – The 2021 flu season which was the one of the mildest on record for Pennsylvania, state health officials revealed recently, mirroring a trend seen across the county as COVID-19 mitigation efforts also hampered the seasonal scourge.

As of May 22, the last day of the 2020-2021 flu season, there were 3,664 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 21 flu-associated deaths in the state. This was a 95 percent decrease from the cumulative count of cases at the end of the 2019-20 flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported lower than normal seasonal flu activity for the nation for this time of year. There was a sixfold increase in public testing for influenza A and B due being paired with testing for COVID-19.

“As we end the flu season this year with fewer than 4,000 cases, I want to emphasize that this is one of the mildest flu seasons on record for Pennsylvania,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said in a statement. “The previous season was higher than usual with more than 130,900 cases of flu. That is a stark difference from where we ended in 2021. The low flu activity, in part, is a testament to effective COVID-19 mitigation efforts that also prevent the flu, since the two infectious diseases spread the same way. In addition, a record number of individuals got their flu vaccine this season.

Texas joins 24 other state urging Supreme Court to overturn New Jersey’s gun magazine ban

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, June 7, 2021

(The Center Square) — Texas is now the 25th state to join a coalition of attorneys general urging the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal a New Jersey law that bans the possession of high-capacity magazines for firearms, arguing it violates the Second Amendment.

Most popular firearms owned in the U.S. come standard with magazines holding a range of 11 to 15 rounds, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued, “making New Jersey’s law both unreasonable and unconstitutional.”  

“New Jersey’s law is a blatant violation of the Second Amendment, and its mere existence threatens the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Paxton said in a statement, arguing for the law to be struck down.

“Criminalizing the possession of a magazine that is so commonly used leaves Americans defenseless and vulnerable, especially in high crime areas,” Paxton added.   

Texas joined an amicus brief first filed May 28 by Arizona, Louisiana and 22 other states in support of the plaintiffs, New Jersey resident Blake Ellman and the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistols Clubs.

The plaintiffs sued New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal over a 2018 law that made it a fourth-degree indictable crime to produce, transport, sell, or otherwise dispose of magazines with more than a 10-round capacity.

If someone were to transport a gun and large capacity magazine “to or from a licensed firearms dealer in another state that allows magazines with larger than a 10-round capacity, that person could be arrested during a routine traffic stop and charged for having an illegal weapon in New Jersey,” The Tormey Law Firm, a criminal defense law firm in Northern New Jersey, explained. Violators could receive a potential 18-month prison sentence, probation, community service, and a $10,000 fine.

The plaintiffs lost in U.S. District Court and appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals where a panel of three judges ruled against them last September. The plaintiffs then asked the full court to hear their case, which the court denied by an 8-6 vote.

The court concluded that the ban does not burden the Second Amendment guarantee for five reasons, and said it was important to keep the ban in place in order to protect citizens’ safety. The court also said its decision was in line with rulings made by the 4th, 2nd, 7th and D.C. circuit courts.

Judge Paul Matey wrote a lengthy dissent in which he argued that the state had not adequately proven that the law actually furthers public safety enough to justify the ban.

The coalition argues the Third Circuit Court “used an erroneous construction of the U.S. Constitution, thereby allowing the Second Amendment rights of millions of citizens to be compromised.”

“New Jersey should not be allowed to invade its citizens’ constitutional rights, and the Third Circuit should not imperil the rights of citizens in other states with its analysis,” the attorneys general argued.

The plaintiffs and the coalition are asking the Supreme Court to grant cert and reverse the Third Circuit Court’s decision, a decision they argue, conflicts with the court’s opinions already given in three cases: Heller, McDonald, and Caetano.

The New Jersey attorney general’s office has not released a statement on the matter.

Recall effort against supervisors in Shasta County, California, approved to circulate petitions

Abbey Smith | Ballotpedia via The Center Square, June 4, 2021

An effort to recall three of the five members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in California has been approved to circulate petitions. District 1 representative Joe Chimenti, District 2 representative Leonard Moty, and District 3 representative Mary Rickert were named in the notices of intent to recall. Recall supporters have until Sept. 29 to collect more than 4,000 petition signatures per member to get the recall on the ballot.

Recall supporters said the county supervisors betrayed the public trust, did not defend the county from state government overreach in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and irresponsibly handled county finances.

Chimenti defended the board’s actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and stated, “Unlike many other counties around California, this board has never enacted any ordinance and we have never burdened law enforcement with enforcement responsibilities pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Recall supporters submitted notices of intent to recall on April 30. After the notices and petitions were approved, supporters were given 120 days to collect signatures equal to 20% of registered voters in each district the supervisors represent. The petition against Chimenti needs 4,392 signatures, the petition against Moty needs 4,308 signatures, and the petition against Rickert needs 4,432 signatures.

Moty and Rickert were both re-elected to four-year terms on the board in Nov. 2020. Moty received 51% of the vote, defeating two challengers, and Rickert won re-election unopposed. Moty was first elected to the board in 2008, and Rickert was first elected to the board in 2016. Chimenti was first elected to a four-year term on the board in 2018, defeating incumbent David Kehoe with 55% of the vote.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 227 recall efforts against 279 elected officials. Of the 49 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 29 were recalled for a rate of 59%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.

Wisconsin Republicans expand investigation into 2020 election nonprofits

By Benjamin Yount | The Center Square contributor, May 27, 2021

(The Center Square) – The investigation by Republican lawmakers into actions taken by outside, nonprofit groups during Wisconsin’s election last fall is growing.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told News Talk 1130 WISN’s Dan O’Donnell on Thursday that he is hiring three former police officers to lead the legislative investigation.

“What I am most concerned about is making sure that when we have another election in 2022, we don’t have the same problems,” Vos said.

Reports point to outside, nonprofit groups like the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life using grant money to gain access to election operations in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha.

The Legislature has been holding hearings into the outside group for months. Vos’ decision this week expands that investigation.

“We want to make sure we have a continuing fact-basis,” Vos said. “We have gotten great reports from people all around the state, and I want those to keep pouring-in. We need more and more folks to sign affidavits, to work with these investigators, to say ‘I was in X-municipality, and this is what I personally witnessed.’”

Vos said the investigators will have subpoena power, as well as the power to grant immunity.

The investigation will not lead to criminal charges, since the Legislature doesn’t have that power. But Vos said he hopes to show clear and convincing evidence that these outside groups broke Wisconsin’s election laws, so that lawmakers can change those laws.

“I want to work on building the idea that Gov. [Tony] Evers is going to sign these bills,” Vos said. “If we have independent investigators go out and find the data and clearly show why the election laws need to be changed, I think Gov. Evers will be forced to listen. And if for some reason he doesn’t, then we will have a fact-base to show the electorate … that we need to change the guy in the [governor’s office] if he’s not willing to listen to the facts.”

Lawmakers split over 2020 election audit in Pennsylvania

By Christen Smith | The Center Square, June 5, 2021

(The Center Square) – Key lawmakers in charge of potential election reforms in Pennsylvania appear split on whether a third-party audit of the state’s November election results will occur.

This, after former President Donald Trump called state GOP leaders out by name – including Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, and State Government Committee Chairman Dave Argall, R-Pottsville – in a terse statement demanding “a full forensic audit” identical to an effort undertaken in Arizona this spring.

“The people of Pennsylvania and America deserve to know the truth,” Trump said. “If the Pennsylvania Senate leadership doesn’t act, there is no way they will ever get re-elected!”

Argall told the Penn Capital-Star he’s “still reviewing the pros and cons” while his counterpart in the House, Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, dismissed the idea outright.

“The PA House of Representatives will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election,” he tweeted Thursday. “We are focused on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

President Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by fewer than 81,000 votes in November. The Trump campaign fired off a series of lawsuits alleging mail-in voter fraud that were later dismissed for lack of evidence. Several Republican lawmakers supported the effort, including three that visited Phoenix on Wednesday to tour the audit site and receive a briefing about its results.

Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, and Sens. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, and Cris Dush, R-Wellsboro, met with Arizona legislators Wednesday, according to a tweet from Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff. Biden’s surprise upset in the state came by a margin of 10,000 votes out of more than 3.1 million cast, with the vast majority collected in Maricopa County.

“Forty-seven percent of the people in this country don’t have faith in the electoral – electoral integrity right now,” Dush told The Wall Street Journal. “And my constituents are very much up in arms, with the lack of any movement on trying to find out what happened.”

Mastriano, who came under fire in recent months for organizing a bus trip for residents to participate in the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, said in an interview with the newspaper that “he’s not about overturning anything.”

The senator maintains that he left the Jan. 6 rallies before a violent mob stormed the Capitol building. But he’s remained an ardent supporter of Trump, who he claims encouraged him to run for governor in 2022. 

“I’m just trying to find out what went right, what went wrong?,” he said. “And how do we have better elections in the future?”

The Pennsylvania-based Wake Technology Services served as part of Arizona’s audit team, organized by Cyber Ninjas, according to a report from the Arizona Mirror. The newspaper said the company also audited election results in Fulton County, Pa., though its unclear who paid for the effort – or why.

Small-business group sues MLB over pulling All-Star Game from Atlanta

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square, June 1, 2021

(The Center Square) – A small business advocacy organization has sued Major League Baseball to return the All-Star Game to Atlanta.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Job Creators Network demands executives immediately resume plans to host the game in Atlanta or pay $100 million in damages to local and state small businesses.

“MLB robbed the small businesses of Atlanta – many of them minority-owned – of $100 million, we want the game back where it belongs,” Job Creators Network President and CEO Alfredo Ortiz said. 

MLB moved the game from Atlanta to Denver after the Georgia General Assembly approved and Gov. Brian Kemp signed an elections overhaul bill into law on March 25. The bill had many tentacles, including revamping absentee voting in the state.

Under the bill, absentee voters will have to write their driver’s license number, identification card number, voter registration number or the last four digits of their Social Security number with their birthdate on ballots. The measure also made changes to the locations of ballot drop boxes and bans mobile polling stations.

Proponents said the law increases election security and integrity. Opponents argued it will disenfranchise Black voters and compared the measure to civil rights limits on Black people during the Jim Crow Era.

It drew criticism from Atlanta-based businesses Coca-Cola and Delta, along with President Joe Biden and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. MLB announced April 2 that it would be pulling its All-Star Game events from the city.

“This was a knee-jerk, hypocritical and illegal reaction to misinformation about Georgia’s new voting law, which includes voter-ID”, Ortiz said. “Major League Baseball itself requests ID at will-call ticket windows at Yankee Stadium in New York, Busch Stadium in St. Louis and at ballparks all across the country.”

The All-Star Game, scheduled for July, was supposed to be held at Truist Park, the home field of the Atlanta Braves in Cobb County.

Cobb County budgeted expenses of $2 million for improvements and municipal hiring to meet the expected influx of tourists and fans for the big event, attorneys for Job Creators Network said. About 41,000 fans were expected to attend. Previous MLB All-Star Game events have generated between $37 million and $190 million for their host communities.

Other local governments in the metro Atlanta area also were counting on the boost in tax revenues, Job Creators Network said. It claimed more than 8,000 hotel reservations were canceled because MLB pulled the game from Atlanta. 

“Small businesses in this community had valid contracts relating to the All-Star Game and other events, the result of two years of planning and all that was ripped away by fear and misinformation spewed by political activists. Many states, including Colorado where the game has been moved to, have similar or more restrictive election laws,” Ortiz said. “This move essentially tells fans of teams in many other cities that they can never again host the All-Star Game; it’s hypocritical, illegal, and we won’t stand for it.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Major League Baseball Players Association and association Executive Director Tony Clark also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

Plan to end absentee ballot curing advances at Wisconsin Capitol

By Benjamin Yount | The Center Square contributor, June 1, 2021 W

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin lawmakers are moving to stop election workers across the state from fixing mistakes on absentee ballots.

The Assembly’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections on Wednesday advanced a plan, Assembly Bill 198, that would clarify that only voters or their witnesses can correct a mistake on an absentee ballot.

“Because [absentee voting] is a privilege, there’s got to be some responsibility that the voter has to exercise that privilege,” said Rep. Donna Rozar, R-Marshfield. “And I think that responsibility is to do it right and legally.”

Republican lawmakers say absentee ballot curing, the technical term for fixing mistakes on ballots, is one of the areas of concern from the November 2020 election.

Election workers cured many more ballots last fall than ever before. The Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed this in its postelection report.

“The statewide absentee ballot rejection rate was exceptionally low in November – 0.2% statewide compared to 1.8% in April 2020,” the commission wrote in January.

The new proposal spells out that election clerks must contact the voter if they made a mistake, or the witness if they made a mistake in filling out their portion of the absentee ballot. Only the voter or the witness can correct those mistakes.

Democrats on the Elections Committee say the change will mean some legally cast ballots won’t be counted.

“I don’t care if absentee voting is a privilege. That doesn’t mean you should have to pass a test, or make sure that you dot every I and cross every T,” said Rep. Lisa Subek, D-Madison. “If someone makes an innocent, honest mistake, it is appalling that we’re not going to then let their ballot count.”

Elections Committee chief Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, said the tightening of the rules for who can fix mistakes on absentee ballots does not infringe on anyone’s right to vote.

“Election Day is a right, and early voting is still a privilege,” Brandtjen said.

The proposal now heads for a vote in the full Assembly, but also a likely veto from Gov. Tony Evers. The governor has said for months he will not sign any new laws that “make it tougher” for people to vote.

Michigan Court of Appeals approves recall petitions for Whitmer, Gilchrist; uphill battle remains

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, June 1, 2021

The Center Square) – The Michigan Court of Appeals approved the Board of State Canvasser’s approval of six petitions calling for a recall of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist over handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petitions allege Whitmer exceeded her authority in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, which included extending a promised “15-day pause” of indoor dining to 75 days, as well as other wide-ranging economic restrictions.

Petitioner Chad Baase’s recall alleges Whitmer violated the separations of powers clause in the Constitution when the Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 2. tossed many of her orders, yet she continued issuing orders through the state health department. He contends Michigan’s leaders haven’t been held accountable.

Gretchen Whitmer’s continued actions which show an ‘It’s OK for me but not for thee’ mentality is not the Mentality of an Effective Leader to bring Success and Growth to Michigan,” Baase told The Center Square in an email.

Whitmer and Gilchrist had argued that the challenged petitions did not “adequately describe the authorities cited as reasons for the recall.”

Whitmer argued recall petition language was unclear, singling out the use of the term “bars” as denoting a public space.

The court disagreed, writing: “Any person invited to sign the petition would very likely envision a reference to a conventional tavern, where people can purchase and consume alcoholic beverages…”.

The Court of Appeals rejected the governor and lieutenant governor’s arguments, and affirmed six of the cases but remanded one to correct an error for an executive order date.

“We conclude that although the Governor relied on the appearance of a string of nonsensical characters to support her challenge to the clarity of the petition language, the Governor’s hasty conclusion about a word-processing irregularity does not arise often enough to compel reading the petition as featuring some gibberish in place of several normal characters that appear the rest of the time,” the court wrote.

Whitmer campaign spokesperson Mark Fisk told Mlive they will appeal.

“We plan to appeal this disappointing decision and we fully intend to beat back these irresponsible partisan attacks against the Governor in the courts, on the streets or at the ballot. This is part of a massive and coordinated attack by Republicans trying to make the Governor fail and our campaign will strenuously oppose these efforts so the Governor can keep saving lives, reopening our economy and creating jobs,” Fisk said.

Recall laws changed in 2012 complicate recalling politicians.

Groups seeking to place a governor recall petition on the ballot must collect signatures equal to more than 25% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election — nearly 1.1 million signatures in just 60 days after collecting the first signature.

Recall petitioner Chad Baase told The Center Square via email the way he understands election law, all recall petitions are ineligible to be circulated under a rule in which petition recalls are only valid for 180 days after whichever is later: “Clarity/factuality approval by the Commission [or] Clarity/factuality approval by the Circuit Court (if Commission decision is appealed), or 40 days after the date of appeal.”

The Board of State Canvassers approved the petitions on June 8, 2020, so 180 days after that would be Dec. 5, 2020.

The deadline to place recall petitions on the November 2021 ballots, if the petitions make it that far, appears to be July 30, 2021. The chance of the petition’s success is unclear. 

A 2012 law prevents governors from being recalled during the last year of their term. Whitmer’s last year as governor, barring re-election, will be 2022.

‘Big Tech’ sues Florida over new social media law

By John Haughey | The Center Square contributor, May 28, 2021

(The Center Square) – Two lobbying associations that partner with Twitter and Google are challenging the legality of Florida’s new social media law.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming Senate Bill 7072, signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is unconstitutional.

The suit alleges SB 7072 violates the First Amendment by compelling social media companies to host “highly objectionable or illegal content” and penalizing them for blocking or hiding content.

“We are bringing this suit to safeguard the industry’s free speech right to deliver on their commitments to users to mitigate harmful content online” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

“By constraining digital services’ ability to fight bad actors online, this law threatens to make the Internet a safe space for criminals, miscreants, and foreign agents, putting Floridians at risk,” he continued. “Gov. DeSantis is correct that this is a free speech issue: a digital service that declines to host harmful content is exercising its own First Amendment rights.”

DeSantis and GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature made penalizing “Big Tech” a 2021 session priority after Twitter and other social media companies banished then-President Donald Trump and other conservatives from their platforms following the U.S. Capitol riot.

“When you de-platform the President of the United States but you let Ayatollah Khomeini talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” DeSantis said Monday when he signed the bill during a ceremony at Florida International University in Miami.

Claiming social media corporations have more power than the monopolies and trusts of the late 1800s, DeSantis said the new “public square” is being manipulated by censors “in pajamas on their laptop drinking a soy latte in Silicon Valley.”

Under SB 7072, users could sue in state courts and collect as much as $100,000 for every day a site kicks them off, deletes a post, or uses its algorithms to limit exposure to their posts.

“De-platforming” political candidates from a social media site could be prosecuted under Florida’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. Penalties would be as high as $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 per day for local candidates.

SB 7072 would allow social media users to opt out of a platform’s algorithms that determine what appears highest on their feed. They could demand platforms feed them posts in the order written.

After signing the bill, DeSantis embarked on a media tour where he was hailed as “America’s Governor” by talk radio host Mark Levin and later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he anticipated lawsuits challenging the new law.

“You can set your clock by it,” DeSantis told Hannity, musing the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The clock struck Thursday when CCIA and NetChoice filed their 70-page complaint in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Rather than preventing what it calls ‘censorship,’ the act does the exact opposite: It empowers government officials in Florida to police the protected editorial judgment of online businesses that the state disfavors and whose perceived political viewpoints it wishes to punish,” the complaint asserts.

“This is evident from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ own press release that touts the act as a means to ‘take back the virtual public square’ from ‘the leftist media and big corporations,’ who supposedly “discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology,” it says.

The Governor’s Office does not comment on specific lawsuits, but DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told Florida Politics that “Big Tech” is outraged at the state’s audacity in “questioning Silicon Valley orthodoxy.”

House Republicans investigate taxpayer funding of Wuhan lab

By Casey Harper | The Center Square, May 28, 2021

(The Center Square) – While the origins of COVID-19 have been a political hot button issue rife with controversy, new evidence has prompted a different question: did American taxpayers help fund the controversial Wuhan lab?

A group of 209 House Republicans sent a letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanding she allow an investigation into whether the Wuhan lab released COVID-19. The same day, Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees announced an investigation into the National Institutes of Health’s grant funding for the scandal-ridden Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“There is mounting evidence the COVID-19 pandemic started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Communist Party covered it up,” the Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to NIH. “If U.S. taxpayer money was used to develop COVID-19, conduct gain of function research, or assist in any sort of cover-up, EcoHealth Alliance must be held accountable. It is incumbent upon grant recipients to ensure their work is performed within the scope of the grant, advances our national interest, and protects our national security. It is vital to understand if U.S. taxpayer funds were at all affiliated with a pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans so we can prevent similar future catastrophes.”

House Committee on Oversight and Reform ranking member James Comer, R-Ky., and House Committee on the Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Republicans point to a grant from NIH given to EcoHealth, which they say has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology “to study bat coronaviruses.”

“EcoHealth has awarded almost $600,000 to the WIV and another $200,000 to the Wuhan University School of Public Health,” the letter reads. “On July 8, 2020, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Dr. Michael Lauer sent a letter to EcoHealth expressing concern over its relationship with the WIV and suspended EcoHealth’s grant pending answers to several routine questions. The questions posed by Dr. Lauer raise serious concerns and suggest COVID-19 was spreading worldwide by October 2019.

“Despite U.S. intelligence concerns about the ability of the WIV to properly contain the deadly disease including the virus that causes COVID-19 they study, EcoHealth still awarded U.S. taxpayer grant funds to the WIV,” the letter adds.

Suspicions that COVID originated in the Wuhan lab were widely dismissed last year, but the theory recently gained new credence after the Wall Street Journal reported that three doctors working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019 for COVID-like symptoms.

“Dems haven’t held a hearing on it,” said Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., after the letter was released. “Big Tech censored posts about it. The media attacked people who talked about it. China can’t get away with this. Americans deserve answers.”

Though Republicans have been critical of Democrats, some Democrats have backed an inquiry into Wuhan in light of the most recent evidence. President Joe Biden said this week he has asked U.S. intelligence agencies to probe COVID’s origins with an eye toward China. 

The movement among Republicans to investigate the lab has steadily increased to the crescendo Friday. What has rankled lawmakers most, though, is evidence that Americans helped fund the very lab at the center of this controversy.

“The cause of this pandemic is the most important question facing the world,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., who sent a letter to Fauci. “It’s clear that we cannot ignore COVID-19’s potential lab origins, and it’s past time for Dr. Fauci to provide answers not only on the role of US funding for Chinese labs, but also his support for this reckless research.”

After national criticism, Whitmer’s campaign to pay for Florida flight

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 28, 2021

(The Center Square) – Months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flew on a secret trip to Florida, Michiganders are starting to find answers.

Whitmer’s campaign committee will pay for her March Florida flight to visit her father after she initially attempted to use a nonprofit to charter the flight through a separate company.

The flight sparked an Federal Aviation Agency investigation, because the jet company was not authorized to operate charter flights.

Whitmer will also pay travel costs for her daughters who flew back with her, Christopher Trebilcock, the legal counsel for the Whitmer for Governor candidate committee and Michigan Transition 2019, wrote to House Oversight Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.

Whitmer’s campaign will pay PVS Chemicals of Detroit for the $27,521 cost Florida flight as well as the $22,670 cost of private travel by plane to President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January.

The change in payments follows the conservative Michigan Rising Action filing of a complaint against Whitmer with the Internal Revenue Service, alleging the governor illegally used a nonprofit to fund a personal flight.

Whitmer’s security detail accompanied her to and from Florida March 12 and March 15, a detail previously undisclosed. Previously, her office had said the governor’s trip was “two full days or less.”

On Thursday, PVS Chemicals President David Nicholson said co-chairman James B. Nicholson granted Whitmer’s request to use the plane because of safety concerns, but she’ll be the last politician allowed to fly on their jet.

The company will follow a “newly created policy to deny all requests to fly candidates or government officials.”

“Our highest priority when interacting with any government official, or representative of government, is to follow the highest standards dictated by both ethics and the law,” Nicholson said in a statement. “Over the past few weeks, we took the position that questions about this flight would be best addressed by the governor’s office. We still believe the outstanding questions are the purview of the governor’s office.

Michigan undercounted nursing home COVID-19 deaths, reporter says

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 29, 2021

(The Center Square) – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff says Michigan has undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

The accusation follows a settlement between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and LeDuff with legal services provided by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. LeDuff and the MCPP sued the government when it failed to provide public records as required by law.

“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” Steve Delie, an attorney and the Mackinac Center’s FOIA expert, said in a May 21 statement. “It also leaves open the possibility that the state is undercounting the number of deaths of those in nursing homes.”

LeDuff found MDHHS conducted a limited review of vital records of deaths from March to June and found that only 44% could be traced to nursing homes.

Of 1,468 vital records selected from March through June 2020, only 648 deaths — or 44% — were traced back to nursing homes and long-term facilities. Michigan tracked 5,653 COVID-19 deaths back to nursing homes.

Another 6,945 deaths among Michigan’s total 19,090 COVID-19 fatalities are classified as “vital records reviews,” LeDuff writes in Deadline Detroit, recorded only after health officials determined the cause of death as COVID-19.

But if that 44% number is applied to the nearly 6,000 vital records of COVID-19 nursing home patients, LeDuff argued there might be thousands more untallied nursing home deaths.

But nobody knows because “Long-term care facility Covid-19 data, which is reported on this web page comes from the facilities themselves, so it doesn’t include any data from Vital Records reviews,” MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton told LeDuff.

However, LeDuff says the state decided to stop checking whether a vital record of death could be traced to nursing homes. Wheaton told LeDuff they weren’t able to do this review “regularly due to how time-consuming it is and the amount of resources we need to devote to doing this.”

MDHHS didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview from The Center Square.

Wheaton told Fox News: “The death certificate contains a check box that the provider reporting the death would check if the individual was a resident of a nursing home or congregate-care facility,” he said, adding that “names and addresses for deaths that occurred in the hospital were matched with the addresses of long-term-care facilities to identify people who had died in the hospital but were residents of a long term care facility.”

In a phone interview with The Center Square, LeDuff called for an investigation— whether through MDHHS, the Attorney General’s office, or money allocated through the legislature— to analyze all 19,090 death certificates and check where they lived.

“It’s more accurate than not counting at all,” he said. “This is the government’s duty,” LeDuff said.

LeDuff compared the situation to New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly suppressed the real number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

“New York kept count and lied about it. Michigan started looking into it, found a number they didn’t like, and they stopped counting,” LeDuff said. “Which is worse?”

Kemp bans mask mandates in Georgia public schools

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square, May 28, 2021

(The Center Square) – Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Friday that bans masks mandates at Georgia public schools.

The order also lifts most existing COVID-19 restrictions in the state. It blocks schools from implementing policies that would require students and staff to wear masks. Students and teachers still can wear masks if they choose, but they would be optional.

“Georgians don’t need the government telling them what their children should do,” Kemp tweeted Thursday.

Six Cobb County parents who sued the Cobb County School District over the district’s mask mandate have dropped the lawsuit in response to Kemp’s announcement.

Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had a public dispute last summer over Kemp’s order that restricted local governments from issuing face covering rules that were more restrictive than his. Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta officials in July after the city enacted a face mask-wearing mandate when his executive order encouraged but did not require face coverings. Kemp later abandoned the lawsuit and issued an executive order that allowed certain local governments to issue the mandate.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Friday the lowest COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. State records show 99 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. According to the state’s daily status report, 9.9% of the tests returned were positive Friday for COVID-19.

“As hospitalizations, cases, deaths, and percent positive tests all continue to decline – and with vaccinations on the rise – Georgians deserve to fully return to normal,” Kemp said. “With safe and effective vaccines widely available and the public well-aware of all COVID-19 mitigation measures, mandates from state and local governments are no longer needed.”

The Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Association of Educators and Georgia Parent Teachers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The order takes effect Monday. It also lifts existing restrictions on restaurants, bars, conventions, child care facilities, live performance venues and other organizations. Kemp lifted gathering bans, shelter-in-place requirements and social distancing mandates at businesses in April. Friday’s order is set to expire June 15.

Some restrictions on long-term care facilities and schools still remain in place in compliance with public health guidance.

Kemp also signed an executive order this week that bans state agencies, state service providers and state properties from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports. It also stops state employers from implementing different rules for employees based on vaccination status.

Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said Kemp’s vaccine passport ban places the “culture wars” in the public health domain. 

“Fighting against so-called ‘COVID Passports’ plays into the anti-vax narrative in dangerous ways,” Beverly said in a statement. “Our students show vaccine histories before going into schools and universities, is that next?”

Gov. Abbott signs bill prohibiting municipalities from banning natural gas use

Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, May 26, 2021

(The Center Square) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that prohibits cities from banning natural gas utilities. Because it received overwhelming support in the House and the Senate, the law takes effect immediately.

House Bill 17 was introduced by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, in response to municipalities taking measures to ban the use of natural gas.

Berkeley, California, for example, banned gas hook-ups for new construction in order to “minimize carbon impact.”

And the city of Austin introduced a “climate action plan” that would have virtually eliminated gas use in new buildings by 2030. The city’s plan was altered after Texas Gas Service opposed the measure, the Texas Observer, reported. But now the law would prevent such a plan altogether.

The city of Dallas also attempted to ban natural gas in home appliances and heating systems.

The new law was hailed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation as a way to prevent municipalities from “creating California-style bans on natural gas utilities.”

TPPF’s Jason Isaacs argues that municipalities that ban the use of natural gas do not improve the environment or impact climate change in any meaningful way. Instead, they increase costs for consumers, and specifically the cost of living for low-income families who can least afford increased electric prices.

“Texans should be allowed the freedom to make this choice for themselves, particularly since studies show banning natural gas in homes would have no meaningful impact on our environment,” Isaacs said.

Texas also follows a similar move made by Arizona, whose legislature last year also barred cities form implementing natural gas bans. Other states like Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Oklahoma either passed similar bans or have proposed them.

The laws, in general, prohibit municipalities from banning natural gas hookups, preserving consumer choice and preventing a patchwork of regulations.

AG: IU’s vaccine mandate unquestionably violates state law

By Margaret Menge | The Center Square contributor, MAY 26, 2021

(The Center Square) – Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said Wednesday that Indiana University’s vaccine mandate “clearly violates” the new state law on vaccine passports which prohibits the state and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination.

Rokita soundly rejected IU’s argument that it is not a part of the state and so not covered by HB 1405, which passed the Indiana General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 29.

“Public universities, and their boards of trustees, are created through statute and receive their corporate powers through legislation,” Rokita said in a 7-page legal opinion that was addressed to two legislators and blasted out to the media. “There is no statutory exemption for public universities under Ind. Code ch. 16-39-11, so the new law applies to public universities.”

Rokita’s opinion applies not just to IU students, but also to faculty and staff of Indiana University on all campuses in the state.

IU, says Rokita, “unquestionably violates the new law by requiring its students, faculty, and staff to show proof of immunization as a condition of continued attendance or employment.”

The opinion was issued at the request of Reps. Peggy Mayfield, R-Bedford, and Andy Zap, R- Huntington, and in response to IU’s announcement  Friday it would require all students, faculty and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

In the announcement, the IU administration said “exemptions will be strictly limited to a very narrow set of criteria, including medical exemptions, and documented and significant religious exemptions.”

On Tuesday, the university denied at least two requests by undergraduate students for religious exemptions for summer study abroad programs. In one case, the university challenged the student, writing in an email to her: “We note that your request for a religious exemption is in conflict with your prior vaccination history. Therefore unless you can establish a change in your religious beliefs since your last vaccination this exemption request is denied.”

“I am incredibly heartbroken to say the least,” she wrote in an email. “I truly believe IU waited until the last minute on purpose to leave students with no options.”

Following the Friday announcement, students, parents and employees flocked to social media and called the governor’s office and state legislators. More than 8,000 people had signed a Change.org petition to get IU to retract its policy.

Rokita’s opinion appears to put the rest the question of whether the vaccine passport law applies to IU, and whether IU can require proof of vaccination. But it also raises issues about IU’s stated intent to punish students by cutting off their email, access to all university systems, and by cutting off their ability to pay for things on campus, and even at the grocery store, using a card that is tied to their bursar’s account.

“Unlike Purdue, IU gives students, faculty and staff no other option or alternative to vaccination,” the opinion says. “Students who fail to comply ‘will have their class registration cancelled, CrimonCard access terminated, access to IU systems (Canvas, email, etc.) terminated, and will not be allowed to participate in any on campus activity.’”

It also references the statement that faculty and staff who refuse “will no longer be able to be employed by Indiana University” and that “working remotely to avoid meeting the COVID-19 requirement is not an option.”

“IU provides no choice to its students, faculty and staff – not only must they be vaccinated, but they must also provide proof of it to the university to maintain their status as a student or employee. This seems precisely what the new law was intended to avoid,” the opinion says.

Before the announcement by Rokita, and the distribution of his legal opinion, First Amendment lawyer Jim Bopp had agreed to represent plaintiffs in taking action against the university, saying it is “completely unconstitutional” for any governmental body to inquire into anyone’s religious beliefs, saying the university has already violated the constitutional rights of students whose exemptions it denied after asking questions about their faith.

“The only thing the government can do when someone asserts a religious belief is to honor it,” he said on Wednesday. “They don’t have a choice. It’s unconstitutional for the government to judge whether or not a particular religious belief is suitable, appropriate, quote legitimate unquote.”

He also questioned whether IU’s stated desire to protect students was rational, saying, there are other greater risks of death to college students than the COVID-19 virus.

“For instance, lightning strikes. Has IU mandated that all students stay inside when it rains? Or they don’t care about that risk?” he said. “Have they prohibited IU students from driving? Or they just don’t care if they get killed by automobiles? So this is a legitimate question. Is this policy rational, or are they just on some woke reaction to what at this point is really, in large part, under control?”

Bill aims to make government reimburse COVID-19 fines

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 25, 2021

(The Center Square) – Just 14 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Michigan House approved a bill that requires the government reimburse private businesses for COVID-19 fines based on restrictions that were found unconstitutional.

The vote was 74-34.

House Bill 4501 seeks to amend the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act to prohibit the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) from issuing civil fines to an employer found violating an emergency standard under certain conditions.

The bill also seeks to require LEO to reimburse an employer that paid a civil penalty for violating a gubernatorial executive COVID-19 order that the Michigan Supreme Court determines to be void or unconstitutional, retroactive to whenever fined.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 2 tossed many of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders.

The reimbursement would have to be made within 30 days after the effective date of the Supreme Court order or 30 days after the bill’s effective date, whichever was later.

Another part of the bill seeks to let first-time COVID-19 offenders off the hook if that person fixed the problem.

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said businesses in his county had been fined for violating Whitmer’s orders. For example, he noted:

  • River City Reproductions: $2,100 fine
  • Eastbrook Homes: $3,500 fine
  • Integrity Business Solutions: $3,500 fine
  • Fire Rock Grill: $6,300 fine

Over the past weekend, Whitmer was caught violating her own COVID-19 rules. 

If she can break COVID-19 rules a first time without a fine, Johnson argued, small businesses should too.

“Now, if that would have happened to a business in my district, that’s thousands of dollars of fines on you,” Johnson said.

“Colleagues, the question before you today: Should businesses in our district get the same treatment as the governor?”

LEO’s webpage of May 24 says there were 96 cases closed related to COVID-19 violations, with total fines of approximately $259,200. However, 112 “open” cases involve $364,200 in fines. Of those, 29 cases are currently under appeal, involving $119,300 in fines.

Report: Rep. Malinowski bought, sold up to $1 million in companies with a stake in pandemic response

By Todd DeFeo | The Center Square contributor, May 24, 2021

(The Center Square) – U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., “bought or sold as much as $1 million of stock in medical and tech companies” with “a stake” in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Associated Press reported, citing an analysis of records.

However, Malinowski’s office is pushing back on the report, saying the trades were made by a broker without the congressman’s knowledge. Malinowski “has been a leading voice in demanding transparency from our elected officials,” his office added.

In March, Business Insider reported Malinowski did not disclose at least $671,000 in personal stock trades last year, a potential violation of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. At least two complaints have been filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, and The Associated Press reported there is no evidence to suggest Malinowski operated using insider information.

Following a Thursday interview, The Associated Press quoted Malinowski as saying the failure to file disclosures is “a mistake that I own 100%.”

“At no point in the last 25 years have I directed, suggested, or even asked questions about a particular trade being made by my brokerage firm,” Malinowski added, according to the report.

“The charge that Congressman Malinowski abused his office is categorically false,” Malinowski’s office said in a statement. “…These trades were made solely by his broker based on publicly available information and without Congressman Malinowski’s input of prior knowledge.”

In a statement, investment advisor Gagnon Securities said it makes “all trading decisions in discretionary client accounts, and does so based on publicly available information as well as proprietary analysis that forms our investment strategy for all our clients.”

“All trades referenced by AP that were made in Congressman Malinowski’s account in 2020, including all short positions, were made by Gagnon Securities pursuant to its discretionary authority and without Congressman Malinowski’s input or prior knowledge,” the company said.

In 2020, Malinowski narrowly defeated state Senate Republican Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. to win reelection. Malinowski’s critics seized the report to attack the congressman, and the topic will assuredly be a campaign issue in 2022.

“A blistering new report out from the Associated Press this morning shows Tom Malinowski’s sketchy efforts to profit off of COVID-19 are much worse than anyone could have imagined,” the Congressional Leadership Fund, a pro-Republican Super PAC, said in a blog post. “…The worst part? Malinowski became a ‘prolific shortseller,’ betting his money against the American companies he was supposed to be rooting for, hoping they’d fail so he could make a quick buck.”

%d bloggers like this: