A Political Action Committee in Utah Under Scrutiny

A Utah PAC collected $4.8 million, but never made a political donation

A Utah PAC collected $4.8 million, but never made a political donation Joe Guetzloff/Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | New York considers ending its surrogacy ban … Supreme Court allows Virginia electoral map to remain … Texas Gov. vetoes car seat legislation.

A political action committee run by the former campaign manager of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is reportedly under investigation after the group raised $4.8 million but never made any donations to candidates, instead spending the money on nonscientific polls and employee salaries. Joe Demma co-founded Americans for an Informed Electorate, the PAC that some are now calling a scam because of its use of persistent robocalling to the elderly. Since its founding in 2016, thousands of complaints have been filed about the PAC’s fundraising strategy, earning it an ‘F’ grade from the Better Business Bureau. “I’m not sure that ‘scam’ is accurate. It’s definitely well intended,” Demma said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. Demma claims to have left the group two years ago, but disclosure forms showed that he still received money last year. In that year, the group raised $1.8 million, making it the top-performing PAC in the entire state. In a statement, Gov. Herbert said that he had “no knowledge of the so-called PAC formed by former state employee, Joe Demma,” and was “tremendously disappointed to learn of the unethical conduct carried out by this organization.” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said that he has looked into shutting the committee down, but “law enforcement asked us not to do anything on this, so we've had our hands tied on this for the last 18 months.” It is not known which federal agency is conducting the investigation, but a source told the Tribune that it is the FBI.  Salt Lake Tribune; Deseret News; KUTV]

SURROGACY BAN | The New York State Senate passed a bill last week to end the state’s ban on gestational surrogacy, a move supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but unlikely to be met with enough enthusiasm in the House to pass. At a press conference, Cuomo urged holdouts to reconsider. “You have an LGBTQ couple or you have an infertile woman or couple who can't make a child and want to bring a child into this world. They want to have a family. Why wouldn't you let them do it? Why wouldn't you help them do it?" The legislation change is opposed by some women’s rights and human rights groups, who say the practice is exploitative and morally questionable. "To ask someone to become pregnant on someone else's behalf is to ask her to put herself at real risk. The women are deciding to undergo these risks while being incentivized by large sums of money,” said Wendy Chavkin, a professor emerita at Columbia University. New York is one of just three states with a ban on surrogacy, along with Louisiana and Michigan. [Albany Times-Union; BioEdge]

VIRGINIA MAP | The Supreme Court let a lower court ruling stand that will allow the state to continue using its current electoral map, at least until it is redrawn following the new U.S. Census count in 2020. The current map, which is seen by some to favor Democrats, may change the makeup of the Virginia House of Delegates, which has a 51-49 Republican majority. The map was chosen by a lower court from a number of proposals put forward by a nonpartisan redistricting expert after a 2014 lawsuit in which Democrats claimed that the old electoral map was racially discriminatory. The Virginia House Speaker, Kirk Cox, expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision. “The Court’s opinion today ends a disappointing saga of orchestrated attacks against the constitutionally-enacted redistricting plan,” he said. Democratic U.S. Congressman from Virginia Donald McEachin applauded the ruling. “Virginia Republicans, led by Speaker Cox, disenfranchised thousands and thousands of voters of color by packing them into racially gerrymandered districts. This ruling means that all Virginia voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard and to elect representatives of their choice,” he said. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called the ruling a “victory for democracy and voting rights in our Commonwealth.” [ABC News; WTVR]

CAR SEATS | Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a bill that would have required children under two-years-old to be in rear-facing car seats. In a statement, Abbott said that the bill "is an unnecessary invasion of parental rights and an unfortunate example of over-criminalization” and that the state should not “micromanage the parenting process to such a great extent.” As Texas law already stands, children younger than eight-years-old must be in a car seat that has been installed according to manufacturer instructions. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Chris Turner, who said that the legislation was meant to "help clarify Texas' confusing car seat law and put it in line with best practices” recommended by several state offices. “Unfortunately, Governor Abbott has chosen to ignore the experts and veto this needed legislation. Our car seat laws will continue to be outdated and inherently confusing for parents,” said Turner. If the bill had been signed into law, it would have made Texas the fifteenth state to require rear-facing car seats for young children. [Texas Tribune; KXAN]

POLICE APOLOGIZE | Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego apologized to a family who was threatened by a police officer at gunpoint after their four-year-old daughter took a doll from a store. Video of the incident went viral over the weekend, and local activists have called for an investigation. "I, like many others, am sick over what I have seen in the video depicting Phoenix police interacting with a family and young children. It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional. I am deeply sorry for what this family went through, and I apologize to our community,” Gallego said in a statement. The family has filed a $10 million claim for distress caused by the officer’s shouting and profanity. The incident is now being reviewed by the Professional Standards Bureau of the police, and the Phoenix Police Chief has also apologized. "I assure you that this incident is not representative of the majority of Phoenix police officers who serve this city," Chief Williams said. [ABC 15 Arizona; CNN]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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