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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

 

The organization that runs our nation’s largest wholesale electricity market spends millions on lobbying and political donations, money it hasn’t publicly disclosed that could affect electricity bills for millions of people in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

A watchdog group, Public Citizen, wants federal regulators to require the organization, PJM Interconnection, to disclose political spending including campaign contributions and lobbying.

PJM has given at least $456,500 to the Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association from October 2007 to August 2017, according to a complaint that Public Citizen filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Under IRS rules, the governors’ associations are political organizations.

PJM has at least five different lobbying firms, according to Public Citizen. The organization has 10 lobbyists in Pennsylvania, two lobbyists in Ohio and one lobbyist in Virginia.

PJM wants federal regulations to dismiss the complaint and says that it is not engaged in impermissible political spending. PJM said the expenses include educational activities, monitoring and communicating. The federal commission was scheduled to consider the complaint at its January meeting but didn’t.

“The complaint is replete with speculative and unsubstantiated allegations,” PJM said in its response to the complaint.

Public Citizen searched Congressional and state databases and an IRS database to estimate political spending by PJM. The organization has long had an issue with a lack of transparency. PJM routinely leaves the line about political activities blank on its annual report filed with FERC.

PJM is funded by payments tens of millions of Americans make through their monthly utility bills in the District of Columbia and 13 states where PJM operates, including Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio.

The federal commission is currently deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans. Kevin McIntyre, who chaired the commission until October, died in January of brain cancer. Trump has yet to nominate a fifth commissioner.

Bernard McNamee, Trump’s most recent appointee, has supported the Trump administration’s proposal to subsidize failing coal and nuclear plants.

The Federal Power Act, first passed in 1920 and amended many times since then, requires that utility rates be “just and reasonable.” Public Citizen wants the federal commission to take action against for PJM for potential violations of this act.

 

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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