Newsletter

The Paper Trail: December 5, 2023

Santos Reveals Campaign Finance System Flaws; Uncle Sam Can’t Quit Elon Musk; Eligible Voters Caught Up in Purges; and More. 

Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays, The Paper Trail is a curated collection of the government news you need to know. Sign up to get this newsletter delivered to your inbox.


The Paper Trail

Top stories for December 5, 2023

George Santos reveals one truth: It’s easy to abuse campaign finance laws: The newly ousted congressman illustrates the weaknesses in the federal campaign finance system, which largely relies on campaigns and political committees to self-report. Experts fear Santos could point the way for future candidates to abuse the system. (Rebecca Davis O’Brien, New York Times)

Drunk and asleep on the job: Air traffic controllers pushed to the brink: A nationwide shortage of air traffic controllers has resulted in an exhausted and demoralized work force that is increasingly prone to making dangerous mistakes. (Emily Steel and Sydney Ember, New York Times)

State workers fear federal grants won’t reach many disadvantaged communities: Amid historic federal investment in climate and environmental initiatives, state employees around the country tasked with distributing federal grants say they are overwhelmed and don’t have the bandwidth to ensure underserved communities get the help they need. (Kery Murakami, Route Fifty)

Government watchdog sounds alarm on crop insurance subsidies for insurers, large farms: Crop insurance is a popular safety net program for farmers that covers financial losses in the case of natural disaster or market upheaval. But critics say the program’s subsidy system disproportionately benefits larger farms and a small number of private insurance companies. (Meredith Lee Hill and Garrett Downs, Politico)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren raises concerns with Education Department over the return of student loan payments: Federal student loan payments resumed in October, but the 12-month on-ramp period provided by the Department of Education for struggling borrowers could experience implementation errors and potentially cause “unanticipated consequences” to borrowers’ credit scores, Warren and three other senators warned in a letter to the department. (Katie Lobosco, CNN)

Israel-Hamas War

Guidance spells out when and how feds can discuss the Israel-Hamas war: According to new Office of Special Counsel guidance, federal employees can discuss the Israel-Hamas war in the workplace and can even express their opinions on it, although they still face some restrictions. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Supreme Court Ethics

“Plain historical falsehoods”: How amicus briefs bolstered Supreme Court conservatives: A tight circle of conservative legal activists maintains a highly effective thought chamber around the Supreme Court's conservative justices. (Heidi Przybyla, Politico)

Opinion: Clarence Thomas’ benefactors finally face the music: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote last week to subpoena two key players in the Supreme Court’s pay-to-play scandal was welcome news for the overwhelming majority of the public that wants a more ethical Supreme Court and a functional Congress. (David Janovsky and Sarah Turberville, Slate)

Insurrection

Eligible voters are being swept up in conservative activists’ efforts to purge voter rolls: Thousands of voters eligible to cast ballots are being swept up in a grassroots effort to purge the nation’s registration rolls ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The undertaking involves a lawyer tied to former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (Michael Kaplan, Major Garrett, and Sheena Samu, CBS News)

Trump not immune from being sued for Jan. 6 riot, judges rule: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled that Donald Trump can be held civilly liable for the actions of the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post)

Trump pardoned them. Now they’re helping him return to power: A review of Trump’s 238 clemency orders found that dozens of recipients have plugged or contributed money to his 2024 candidacy or disseminated his false claims about the 2020 election. (Beth Reinhard, Manuel Roig-Franzia, and Clara Ence Morse, Washington Post)

Russia-Ukraine War

What to know in Washington: OMB warns Congress on Ukraine funds: OMB Director Shalanda Young warned Congress that the U.S. will run out of resources to assist Ukraine by the end of the calendar year. The White House is seeking over $61 billion for Ukraine aid as part of a $105 billion package that would also include funding for Israel and allies in the Pacific and money to house and process undocumented immigrants along the southern border. (Kayla Sharpe, Bloomberg Government)

Bipartisan senators seek information about Russian oil flows to U.S. supplier: The Pentagon is facing congressional pressure to stop the flow of Russian oil into its supply chain after an investigation revealed that shipments of the forbidden fuel have been making their way to a Greek refinery that serves the U.S. fleet. (Evan Halper, Dalton Bennett, and Jonathan O’Connell, Washington Post)

Police Misconduct

Controversial technology assisted in capture of suspected serial killer in Los Angeles: Law enforcement’s use of automated license plate reading technology has sparked controversy due to privacy concerns. (Dana Griffin, NBC News)

The police force where female officers warn other women to stay away: The Justice Department is investigating claims of gender and racial discrimination at the New Jersey State Police. Just 5.6% of its 3,117 troopers are female. (Tracey Tully, New York Times)

COVID-19

Vulnerable Americans are going into the holiday season without COVID-19 protections: Only 27% of nursing home residents and 6% of staff have been vaccinated since the updated version of the COVID vaccine became available in September. (Nathaniel Weixel, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: U.S. troops suing government for billions in backpay over COVID vaccine mandate (Timothy Frudd, American Military News)

Texas AG Paxton suing Pfizer for attempted censorship, “misrepresenting” COVID-19 vaccination: Texas’ attorney general alleges that Pfizer gave the impression its vaccine would end the COVID pandemic, and that the company’s claims of its shot being 95% effective were misleading. (Joseph Choi, The Hill)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Members want $26 billion for programs the Pentagon didn’t seek: House and Senate appropriators have added into their two fiscal 2024 defense spending bills a combined $25.7 billion the Pentagon did not formally seek for over 1,200 research and procurement projects. (John M. Donnelly, Roll Call)

Total number of VA claims lost in online systems tops 120,000: The VA acknowledged that more than 120,000 veterans who attempted to use its online platforms to file for benefits in recent years were stymied by technical problems — a total nearly 35% larger than previously reported. (Leo Shane III, Military Times)

Air Force’s missileer cancer study now looking at 14 different cancers and environmental risks at other bases: The Air Force is examining whether certain cancers are more prevalent among its active-duty and veteran missileers. (Thomas Novelly, Military.com)

Business and Finance

The U.S. government gives billions to Musk’s companies. It can’t quit him: Lawmakers increasingly worry about Elon Musk’s controversial behavior, but it may not be easy to disentangle federal agencies from his sprawling empire which includes commercial spaceflight firm SpaceX, satellite internet service Starlink, automaker Tesla, and medical device company Neuralink. (Jacob Bogage, Washington Post)

Swiss bank Banque Pictet admits hiding $5.6 billion of Americans’ money from IRS: Major Swiss bank Banque Pictet admitted to conspiring with American clients to evade approximately $50.6 million in U.S. taxes and agreed to pay $123 million in restitution and penalties as part of a settlement with the Justice Department. (Kevin Breuninger, CNBC)

Tech

Key Congress staffers in AI debate are funded by tech giants like Google and Microsoft: Big tech companies are funneling money through a science nonprofit to help pay the salaries of fellows working on AI policy in Congress. It’s just one example of the increasing influence outside-funded fellows are exerting on tech policy in Washington. (Brendan Bordelon, Politico)

Automakers’ data privacy practices “are unacceptable,” says U.S. senator: Sen. Edward Markey wrote to 14 automakers with a variety of questions about their data privacy policies, urging them to do better. (Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica)

Congress provided $7.5B for electric vehicle chargers. Built so far: zero: States and the charger industry blame the sluggish rollout on the labyrinth of new contracting and performance requirements they have to navigate to receive federal funds. (James Bikales, Politico)

Health Care

Retirement without a net: The plight of America’s aging farmworkers: Undocumented immigrants who worked for decades on U.S. farms are reaching retirement age in a country that doesn’t provide them Social Security, Medicare, or the other forms of retirement relief. (Miriam Jordan, New York Times)

Patients expected Profemur artificial hips to last. Then they snapped in half: Profemur artificial hips were once considered innovative because of a feature intended to modernize total hip replacement surgery. But that feature proved to be a weak point. (Anna Wener and Brett Kelman, CBS News)

CVS plans to overhaul how much drugs cost: For consumers, employers, and health insurers paying for prescriptions, the change will have mixed effects: Some drugs may cost less, while others might rise in price. (Anna Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Yellen to visit Mexico for talks on boosting trade, fighting fentanyl trafficking

Other News:

Why a second Trump presidency may be more radical than his first

Former U.S. ambassador arrested in Florida, accused of serving as an agent of Cuba

Sen. Rick Scott demands answers over FSU snubbing as anger builds over college football pick

Upcoming Events

📌 Annual Oversight of Wall Street Firms. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Wednesday, December 6, 9:30 a.m., 216 Hart Senate Office Building.