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‘Putinesque Kleptocracy’: DeSantis Slammed Over Bombshell His Administration Officials Are Soliciting Donations From Lobbyists

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Democratic and Republican political campaign experts, lobbyists, politicians, attorneys, and others are stunned and outraged after learning taxpayer-paid government officials in the administration of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis have reportedly been soliciting donations for his presidential campaign, in violation of longstanding expectations of a firm wall between a political leader’s work as an elected public servant, and their political campaign machine.

“Whoever is telling these kids to do this has lost their damn mind,” a Florida Republican lobbyist told NBC News, which broke the bombshell story late Thursday night.

The solicitations from DeSantis government officials are in the form of personal text messages to Florida lobbyists, “a breach of traditional norms that has raised ethical and legal questions and left many here in the state capital shocked,” NBC News reports, adding that it was seen as “jaw-dropping.”

“It is walking a very close line to what is ethical and possibly legal,” a Florida lobbyist told NBC News. “It is state employees leveraging their official position to ask people whose livelihood depend on access to state government for money.”

READ MORE: ‘He’s Gonna Get Charged’: Experts Predict Obstruction and Espionage Act Charges for Trump Based on WaPo Report

“Using a bundle code makes it look like certain employees get credit with the campaign,” that same lobbyist added, calling it “very questionable.”

“If any of my clients had legislative staff sending out donation links, we would be having a hard conversation,” a Republican fundraiser who works on federal elections said.

NBC News says the “legality of the solicitations depends on a series of factors, including whether they were sent on state-owned phones, or if they were sent on state property.”

At the federal level, with the exception of the President and Vice President, elected and government officials are banned from soliciting donations or campaigning on government property, including in government buildings, such as Congress or the White House.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was formally admonished in March by the Senate Ethics Committee for violating ethics rules and standards by repeatedly soliciting campaign donations during an interview at the Capitol. It was not the first time he “directly solicited campaign contributions,” the Committee noted.

A longtime Florida election law attorney told NBC News, “At a minimum, even if they are sitting in their home at 9 p.m. using their personal phone and contacting lobbyists that they somehow magically met in their personal capacity and not through their role in the governor’s office, it still smells yucky.”

“There’s a misuse of public position issue here that is obvious to anyone paying attention,” they added.

READ MORE: ‘Manufactured MAGA Madness’: House Dems Slam GOP for ‘Running Out of Town’ to Trigger an ‘Economic Meltdown’

Pay-to-play, as some might call DeSantis’ actions, apparently has been part of the Florida GOP Governor’s playbook for years.

“Since assuming office in 2019,” The Tampa Bay Times reported this past October, “DeSantis has accepted roughly $3.3 million in campaign donations from about 250 people he selected for leadership roles,” referring to government jobs. The Times called it “a 75% increase in the number of donors appointed compared to former Gov. Rick Scott’s first term in office, and over 10 times the amount of money.”

The Miami Herald at the time spoke with Kedric Payne, vice president and general counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, who noted appointing donors is a typical practice.

“The public perceives this to be pay to play,” Payne told The Herald. “It’s perceived to be a contribution given with a wink and a nod to get the appointment.”

Orlando Sentinel Capital bureau reporter Jeffrey Schweers calls the NBC report “huge,” and says “the implications are staggering.”

Matt Dixon, the NBC News reporter and co-author of the bombshell report, observed on Twitter, “The $117b state budget and several bills remain on DeSantis desk.”

“That’s a lot of leverage, and those who got the texts are feeling pressure,” he noted. “Beyond that, it’s just so drastically beyond the norm. Taxpayer funded staff asking lobbyists for political $ isn’t how it usually works.”

Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at the right-wing National Review, tweeted, “Frankly, I didn’t know this was a matter of ‘norms’; I thought it was a matter of law. Something to keep an eye on.”

Former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s fraud division, Andrew Warren, currently a Florida state attorney who was suspended by DeSantis, had strong words in response to NBC’s reporting.

“Florida government officials on taxpayer salaries are raising money for DeSantis campaign from companies doing business with his administration. This is corruption—plain & simple. But what else should we expect from a Governor who flaunts the rule of law?”

Warren is challenging DeSantis’ suspension in court.

READ MORE: DeSantis Tells Evangelicals He Wants to ‘Improve’ Supreme Court So Justices Reflect ‘Gold Standard’ of Clarence Thomas

Rick Wilson, the well-known political strategist and now-former Republican who has worked in politics since 1988, blasted DeSantis.

“The stories of @RonDeSantis GOVERNMENT staff…not campaign, GOVERNMENT staff soliciting Florida lobbyists for money for his Presidential campaign should draw the immediate attention of the Department of Justice,” he tweeted Friday morning. “This is Putinesque kleptocracy.”

“Here’s why the quid pro quo is so outrageous,” he noted. “DeSantis has yet to sign the state budget.”

Indeed, NBC News “spoke with 10 Republican lobbyists in Florida, all of whom said they couldn’t remember being solicited for donations so overtly by administration officials — especially at a time when the governor still has to act on the state budget.”

“That process that involves DeSantis using his line-item veto pen to slash funding for projects that the same lobbyists whom they are asking for political cash have a professional stake in. Most of the lobbyists said they felt pressure to give to the governor’s campaign.”

Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried, who ran in the 2022 gubernatorial primary but lost to Charlie Crist, responded to Wilson on Twitter, charging, “This is also how he [DeSantis] strong armed the endorsement of members of the legislature.”

“It’s not just the lobbyists they’re extorting,” Democratic former state lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith, a current state senate candidate, alleged via Twitter. “Ron DeSantis got 99 Florida Republican lawmakers to sign endorsement agreements before budget vetoes were announced. Using fear, intimidation, and threats of retribution is all they know how to do.”

 

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Democrats Discredit GOP Claims on IVF as Republicans Try to Regain Ground After Fallout

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One week after the Alabama State Supreme Court ruled frozen human embryos are “children,” causing several medical institutions to pause their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) programs, Alabama and the GOP have seen tremendous nationwide anger, upset, and confusion from the left and the right over the decision, the Christian nationalist chief judge, and the Republican Party that set this in motion.

Now, GOP lawmakers and political groups are trying to regain ground after some Republicans quickly embraced the decision that, as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre predicted Tuesday, would cause “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

“As a reminder,” Jean-Pierre added, “this is the same state whose attorney general threatened to prosecute people who help women travel out of state to seek the care they need.”

President Joe Biden condemned the Alabama ruling: “The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”

But U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) cheered his state’s Supreme Court, while appearing to not fully grasp what IVF is.

READ MORE: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’: Biden Campaign Blasts Trump Christian Nationalism Plans

“I was all for it,” he said of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, calling young people “our number one commodity.”

But when pressed, Tuberville declared, “I’d have to look at the entire bill, how it’s written, I have not seen it,” referring not to legislation but the ruling.

And when told that women will now not be able to have IVF treatments, Tuberville repeatedly replied it was “unfortunate.”

On Thursday night, speaking to a group of religious broadcasters, Donald Trump denounced the Alabama ruling and vowed to protect IVF. On Friday, the beleaguered Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a memo directing Republicans to defend IVF. Also Friday, the Attorney General for the state of Alabama, mentioned earlier by the White House Press Secretary, effectively suggested he would ignore the state supreme court’s ruling, promising to not prosecute IVF families, as ABC News reported.

But Democrats are making clear that despite whatever claims or promises Republicans make, the IVF ruling is the direction conservatives are taking the Republican Party.

READ MORE: Smirnov Scandal: Experts Call for Investigations, Warn GOP of Possible Conspiracy Charges

“First Republicans banned abortions so women couldn’t terminate a pregnancy. Now they are coming for IVF so women can’t begin a pregnancy. The GOP agenda is about one thing: government control of women,” observed U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (photo).

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox reports a new NRSC memo “instructs [GOP] candidates to reject clearly and concisely government attempts to restrict access to IVF.”

Just hours later, Sen. Murphy responded, saying, “umm the chairman of the NRSC sponsored the bill to ban IVF.”

He added, “newsflash: no matter what they tell their candidates to pretend, when they get power they use it to control women.”

The NRSC’s goal is to help get Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate. It is chaired by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, a MAGA Republican and member of the Senate’s Pro-Life Caucus.

As Bloomberg’s Matthew Yglesias notes, Senator Daines is an original co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act.

The Center for American Progress’ Colin Seeberger adds, Daines “quite literally has been a longtime co-sponsor of the Lifetime at Conception Act, which would establish legal protections for the unborn just as the Alabama Supreme Court ordered and has led to the suspension of fertility care across AL.”

Meanwhile, Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz notes that the “text of GOP‘s most recent platform claims that ‘the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed’ and calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions — and jeopardize IVF — by granting 14th Amendment rights to fetuses.”

READ MORE: Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

Indeed, as The New York Times reported, far-right Christian conservative Tony Perkins, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ extremist group Family Research Council, called the Alabama Supreme Court ruling a “beautiful defense of life and the Alabama Constitution.”

Friday afternoon Donald Trump followed up his vow to protect IVF with a social media post that claims in part, “Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America. Like the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Americans, including the VAST MAJORITY of Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, and Pro-Life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby.”

Former Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer responded, asking: “Why would anyone believe this? In 2016, Trump pledged no cuts to Medicaid and then spent four years trying to gut the program.”

And as Axios reports, “House Democrats’ main super PAC is promising to pour money into attacking Republicans on fertility treatments in the wake of a controversial, first-of-its-kind Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Axios has learned.”

“Trump’s call came a day after President Biden’s re-election campaign blamed him for the ruling, noting his appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade,” Axios adds. House Majority PAC, in a memo set to be released Friday, listed nearly a dozen current and former House Republicans in competitive districts who have co-sponsored at least one version of the Life at Conception Act between 2021 and 2023.”

See the social media posts and video above or at this link.

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Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

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The re-arrest of Alexander Smirnov, the former FBI informant who allegedly may have provided House Republicans with Kremlin propaganda that was the basis for their efforts to impeach President Joe Biden and attack his son Hunter, raised some eyebrows on Thursday.

Smirnov, once considered House Republicans’ Jim Comer and Jim Jordan’s star witness, was re-arrested even after a magistrate judge ordered him released, and at his attorneys’ offices, raising eyebrows from even national security experts, insisting there had better be a good reason for it.

Now, according to a noted legal expert, it appears there was.

“A California judge seems to be suggesting [Smirnov’s] lawyers are complicit in his efforts to flee, in a remarkable line ordering detention for the FBI source whose lies propelled Biden impeachment efforts,” writes professor of law and MSNBC legal contributor Joyce Vance, a former U.S. Attorney.

READ MORE: ‘Insultingly Stupid’: Trump’s Move to Toss Out Classified Docs Case Torn Apart by Experts

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II in his order wrote on Thursday: “It has come to this Court’s attention that counsel for defendant has sought an emergency hearing in the District of Nevada to arrange the release of Defendant Smirnov, likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

After detailing Smirnov’s arrest and release, Judge Wright ordered his re-arrest, adding: “The U.S. Marshal Service is advised there is to be no deviation from this Order.”

Just Security’s Adam Klasfeld calls Judge Wright’s order “wild,” and adds that Smirnoff’s lawyers released “a terse statement about the extraordinary order.”

“They did not respond to questions about the language in the judge’s order suggesting a ‘likely’ aim to ‘facilitate’ their client ‘absconding from the United States.'”

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Vaccine-Laced Lettuce and Tomatoes? Tennessee GOP Lawmaker Worried

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A Tennessee Republican state lawmaker says he’s worried Tennesseans might overdose on vaccines if they eat too many tomatoes.

State Rep. Scott Cepicky claims vaccines can already be added to foods like lettuce and tomatoes, and to tobacco products, so he has filed legislation to require grocery store items containing vaccines to be labeled.

“University of California Riverside has already perfected the ability to put human vaccines into our lettuce right now,” Rep. Cepicky told his fellow lawmakers Wednesday while discussing his legislation. “Also, tomatoes, has the ability to do that also per UC Berkeley. And then big tobacco, RJ Reynolds and stuff has perfected the ability to put a human vaccine in tobacco products.”

NCRM could find no evidence supporting his claims, although researchers starting in 2021 were studying if it is possible to do so.

Cepicky, who has been endorsed by U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), warned, “there is no law, deeming those that when you go into a grocery store, you should know as a consumer, this head of lettuce is a head of lettuce. The head of lettuce right next week could contain a vaccine in it. All we’re saying is if it does have the vaccine in it, make sure it’s listed as a pharmaceutical so people can get the proper dosage.”

READ MORE: ‘Insultingly Stupid’: Trump’s Move to Toss Out Classified Docs Case Torn Apart by Experts

Facing some pushback from Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Cepicky went on to say, “This is more of a consumer protection bill right here, is to make sure that if you’re going in to buy tomatoes, and there’s a polio vaccine in there, that you are aware of what you’re buying has a polio vaccine. The problem you have is if it’s not treated as a pharmaceutical, being the size and difference between you and me, how many tomatoes do I have to eat to get the proper dosage versus how many tomatoes that you have to eat? And if you eat too many do you get a overdose?”

Asked if his legislation was necessity, Cepicky added, “Well, if you’d have a child that is allergic to a certain vaccine, and it’s not disclosed, when you go to buy that, that vegetable, whatever it is, and your child dies from that, I would think that having place is going to make sure that that is treated as a pharmaceutical so that the consumers know exactly what they’re buying.”

Anti-vaxers gained a foothold during the COVID pandemic, spreading false claims about vaccines. Last year the fact-checking website Snopes deemed it “false” that “mRNA from COVID-19 vaccines has entered the food supply via genetically modified plants bred to contain it or through the consumption of vaccinated livestock.”

“Claims regarding COVID-19 vaccines ‘in your salad‘ have persisted on the internet and recirculated due to misreadings or misinterpretations of several press releases or scientific research,” Snopes added, “Mike Flynn, during a September 2021 podcast appearance, referenced this research, describing it as ‘putting the vaccine in salad dressing.'”

READ MORE: Kremlin Infiltration of Congress Alleged by Ex-Trump Prosecutor: Republicans ‘Duped or in on It’

Flynn, the former Trump U.S. national security advisor, is a far-right Christian nationalist and Trump MAGA activist.

Tennessee lawmakers voted to move Rep. Capicky’s forward.

Watch Rep. Capicky’s remarks below or at this link.

 

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