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Republican legislative leaders in Wisconsin called lawmakers back to the Capitol Friday afternoon to change state law governing special elections.

The move comes a day after a court ruled that Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, must hold a pair of special elections, which Walker has sought to avoid.

Democrats called the plan to change the law an “attack on democracy.”

“It’s clear that little thought was given to the impact of the special elections ruling,” Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement, saying an extraordinary session of the legislature was necessary to “clean up” the statute on special elections.

“In essence, there will be two elections occurring simultaneously for the two offices,” the statement continued. “It will undoubtedly lead to voter confusion and electoral chaos. Also, holding the special elections after the conclusion of the regular session is a waste of taxpayer dollars and local government resources.”

Gov. Walker applauded the decision, saying he supported and intended to sign the legislature’s plan to “clarify special election law.”

Vos and Fitzgerald said they made their decision in consultation with Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who represented Walker in the lawsuit brought by a national Democratic group lead by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Attorneys for Holder’s group argued that refusing to hold the elections was “textbook voter disenfranchisement.” Wisconsin said there was no need to hold elections since the Legislature’s regular session ended this week.

A Wisconsin judge ruled Thursday that refusing to hold the elections would disenfranchise thousands of voters who live in districts that have been unrepresented since two Republican lawmakers vacated their seats in December 2017.

Judge Josann Reynolds, who was appointed by Walker in 2014, ordered Walker to issue the order calling the special elections no later than March 29.

Schimel’s office told TPM on Friday morning that it had not yet decided whether it would appeal the ruling.

Both Holder’s group and the Wisconsin Democratic Party sent out statements blasting Republican lawmakers’ move to undermine Reynolds’ decision.

Holder said that Wisconsin Republicans appeared “to be afraid of the voters” and that his group was willing to take further legal action. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning struck a similar note, saying Republicans “publicly embarrassed themselves by calling a legislative session that is a clear attack on democracy just so they can avoid losing more special elections.”

In January, Democrat Patty Schachtner scored a big upset by winning a state Senate seat in a rural, conservative Wisconsin district. Walker called the victory a “wake up call,” and national Democrats pointed to it as the latest sign that they could see a huge wave in the November midterms.

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Buried inside the 2,000-page omnibus bill passed by Congress is a remarkable provision.

The Federal Election Commission will have to provide answers on how it’s enforcing a decades-old prohibition — made newly relevant by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign — on foreign money in American elections.

Campaign finance reformers, including former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel, cheered the provision as an “incredible” step in the right direction.

Per the language in the spending bill, the FEC’s chairwoman, Republican Caroline Hunter, will have 180 days after the bill’s passage to provide a report to the House and Senate appropriations committees on how the agency “identifies foreign contributions to elections, and what it plans to do in the future to continue these efforts.”

This provision reinforcing the need to preserve “the integrity of elections” was authored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), who campaigned on a platform to improve transparency and reform the campaign finance system.

Hunter told The Hill she was eager to lay out for Congress the measures the FEC takes to ensure that foreigners can’t funnel money into American political campaigns.

President Trump has threatened to veto the spending bill, but is expected ultimately to sign it.

The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Russian banker Aleksandr Torshin gave money to the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm in order to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. The NRA has denied any wrongdoing, pointing to its “longstanding policy” against accepting funds from foreign entities or individuals.

American Democracy Legal Fund, a liberal group, has filed a complaint with the FEC requesting a thorough investigation of financial links between the NRA and Russia. No formal probe has yet been launched.

As TPM has reported, a series of Supreme Court rulings gutting laws governing money in politics have left U.S. elections vulnerable to donations from foreign sources, which can be concealed in complex webs of shell companies.

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Democrats are running a staggering number of candidates in state-level offices this year, especially in conservative areas the party once wrote off.

It’s a testament to the massive outpouring of grassroots energy spurred by the Trump era.

In Texas, Democrats are contesting 14 of 15 state Senate seats up this year, as well as 133 of 150 state House seats—an almost 50 percent boost from 2016. For the first time in years, almost all of the 170 state legislative races in North Carolina will feature both a Republican and Democratic candidate. Pennsylvania Democrats have filed to get on the ballot in 180 of the state House’s 203 districts—the most they’ve engaged in since 2000.

A string of Democratic successes in special election races, some in districts President Trump resoundingly won, has upended expectations of which of those seats are in play. Conor Lamb eked out a victory in a deep-red pocket of Pennsylvania, while Doug Jones became the first Democrat in a quarter century to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

Rather than focusing just on flippable seats or purple states, Democrats, particularly on the state legislative level, are giving it a go pretty much everywhere.

The goal of this “flood-the-zone” approach isn’t just to win midterm races or regain control of the redistricting process, grassroots progressive organizations tell TPM. It is instead a concerted effort to channel the base’s current enthusiasm into local politics—a long overdue effort to get the Democratic Party engaged on the ground looking towards 2020 and beyond.

“It’s about rebuilding the Democratic bench from the ground up,” Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, told TPM. “It isn’t about a short term win. We don’t expect to take back the Oklahoma state senate in a year, or flip the Kansas state legislature. What we do hope is to make ground and take steps forward.”

Litman suggested that a Democratic candidate now running in those states could run for Congress or governor a few years down the line.

“We don’t get there unless we invest in it now,” she said. “It’s a long game we have to play with that in mind, and measure our success accordingly.”

While Trump’s election may have been the wellspring for the current torrent of progressive energy, plenty of Democratic candidates are running hyper-local campaigns focused on what they describe as extreme policies pushed by Republicans in their state governments.

“Forced fetal funeral bills, ‘bathroom bills,’ ‘arm-your-teacher’ bills, bills that ban public schools from teaching kids about climate change — things just way, way beyond the mainstream,” said Forward Majority communications director Ben Wexler-Waite by way of example.

In Kansas, it’s the failed tax cut experiment pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R). In Oklahoma, it’s the four-day school week enacted to allow economically struggling teachers to pursue second jobs.

In the surprising Virginia legislative elections last November, in which Democrats flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates, it got even more local than that.

“Danica Roem ran on fixing Route 28!” said Nicole Hobbs, co-founder of Every District, a group focused on investing in Democrats at the state legislative level. “That resonates with voters.”

Roem, the first openly transgender person elected in any U.S. state legislature, became the face of the kind of progressive wins possible in this climate after she defeated Republican incumbent Bob Marshall. Marshall — who sponsored one of the so-called “bathroom bills” aimed at forcing transgender people to use the bathroom of their birth gender — had held his seat for 25 years.

Forward Majority is focused on targeting these sorts of long-sitting state-level incumbents who have faced few or no real challengers, said Wexler-Waite. To account for the decline of local media, the super PAC plans to conduct opposition research and run targeted ad campaigns highlighting the voting records and gaffes of particularly out-there candidates.

“There has just been no one holding them accountable in any way,” he said.

This strategy is easier in states like Virginia, which have lax campaign finance laws. While the institutional Democratic party concentrated on the most winnable, flippable seats, outside groups flooded the state with advertising, volunteers, and money, providing crucial support for candidates in lower-profile races. Other states have stricter regulations that make it harder for outside groups to have as much influence.

That’s deterred some national Democratic groups from getting involved in local elections, according to Run for Something’s Litman. Republicans, meanwhile, were “willing to make the investment in it and figure it out anyway,” she said. “They’ve bought into local races being important for a lot longer than we have.”

Groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) have spent well over a decade cultivating candidates for local races. Though the RSLC is responding to the newfound energy and coordination on the Democratic side by channeling tens of millions more dollars into local races, the group says they’re not fazed by the sheer quantity of Democrats running this year.

“Flipping nearly 1,000 seats in the past decade for Republicans, on map lines largely drawn by Democrats, took having the right candidate with the right message and the right policies,” RSLC spokesman David James told TPM in an email. “During that same time period, liberals touted the quantity of candidates they had filed, which have usually been more than Republicans, with far fewer actual victories.”

Even if Democrats can pull off a blue wave in 2018, the GOP margins are so large in so many states — and districts are currently so gerrymandered in their favor — that Republicans are likely to retain control of the majority of state legislatures.

Progressive groups say they’re well aware of the constraints they’re up against. But they say any victories are steps in the right direction, and those are only possible if candidates are actually registered.

“I have really bought into the idea that if we don’t run, we can’t win,” Lisa Goodgame, board president at Indivisible Austin, told TPM.

Pointing to the dozens of contested races in play in Texas, Goodgame added: “It’s never too late. And thank God it’s happening now.”

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday blasted Republican lawmakers for pushing to impeach state Supreme Court justices who ruled that the Keystone State’s congressional districts were unfairly gerrymandered on partisan lines.

“This is an unprecedented and undemocratic attempt to retaliate against the judicial branch,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The legislature should be helping people, not settling personal grudges. This is nonsense and a waste of precious time and resources.”

Twelve Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers on Tuesday filed legislation to remove four of the five Democratic justices on the court — David Wecht, Christine Donahue, Kevin Dougherty and Debra McCloskey Todd — for “misbehavior in office.”

The court in January voted 5-2 on party lines to strike down congressional maps drawn in 2011, determining that they were so gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor that they violated the state constitution and needed to be replaced before the May primary. The map has typically given Republicans 13 out of 18 congressional seats, even as they have won around 50 percent of the statewide vote.

After lawmakers failed to meet a court-imposed deadline to negotiate new maps with the governor’s office, the court ordered that its own map, drawn by an outside expert, be used.

That decision inspired a federal lawsuit from Pennsylvania Republicans, who also made two unsuccessful appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the court-drawn map.

It also prompted Rep. Cris Dush (R) to kick off the impeachment charge, rallying other GOP lawmakers to back his legislation calling for the justices’ ouster. Backers of the measure say the court overstepped its judicial authority by imposing new district lines. Justice Max Baer, the court’s fifth Democrat, escaped an impeachment resolution because he said the current map could stay in place until 2020.

It’s unclear how much support the impeachment push has in the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I have not heard much from leadership on the matter nor all that much from my colleagues,” Rep. John McGinnis, one of the Republican co-sponsors, told TPM in an email.

The public response has been similarly mixed, according to McGinnis: “Reactions I received from the public split between those grateful for my action and those accusing me of being a fascist.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) and House Speaker Michael Turzai (R), who led the federal lawsuit against the new maps, did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment on the impeachment resolutions.

A spokesperson for Turzai told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that leadership still needed to survey members about the resolutions and review evidence, and that the decision would not be “taken lightly.”

Removing justices would require a two-thirds vote in the state Senate, where Republicans control 34 of the 50 seats.

As controversial as this proposal may seem, Pennsylvania Republicans on Capitol Hill have said it deserves consideration. Rep. Ryan Costello called the new map a form of “judicial activism” worthy of impeachment. And Sen. Pat Toomey said impeachment was a “conversation that needs to happen.”

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As they near completion of one aspect of their Russia probe, lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee outlined for reporters where federal officials fell short in responding to Russian cyberthreats in 2016.

“We were all disappointed that states, the federal government and Department of Homeland was not more on their game in advance of the 2016 elections,” Intel Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said.

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A St. Louis prosecutor has subpoenaed a former veterans’ charity founded by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

The subpoena suggests that the probe into Greitens — who was indicted last month in connection with allegations that he blackmailed a woman with whom he as having an affair — may be widening.

The Kansas City Star reported Monday that St. Louis Circuit Court Attorney Kim Gardner has issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, indicating she is looking into long-swirling questions about the links between the charity and the fundraising operation of Greitens’ 2016 campaign.

A grand jury empaneled by Gardner, a Democrat, indicted the Republican governor for taking a partially nude, non-consensual photo of the woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the blackmail claim and insisted he “committed no crime.” The governor’s legal defense team is currently fighting to have his invasion of privacy trial moved up from mid-May to early April, insisting he deserves to have the case heard quickly.

The team did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the subpoena requests.

Two other entities have also issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, according to the Star. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who said early this month he has an open investigation into the charity, issued them last week. The Missouri state House panel convened after Greitens was indicted is also seeking information from the charity.

The Associated Press has documented the striking overlap between people who donated to The Mission Continues, which Greitens left in 2014, and those who subsequently donated to his 2016 campaign. If Greitens’ campaign used The Mission Continues’ donor list, it could have violated campaign finance laws.

Through his Nov. 2016 election, Greitens denied using the list. But last spring, after Missouri Democrats filed a complaint with the state ethics commission, he agreed to a settlement that required his campaign to retroactively disclose that it received the donor list and to pay a $100 fine.

The charity has denied giving the list to the campaign. Mission Continues spokeswoman Laura L’Esperance told the Star on Monday that the charity was cooperating with all documents requests.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of its ongoing Russia probe, on Tuesday previewed their initial recommendations to improve election cybersecurity ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“It is clear that the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election systems,” Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said at the press conference to announce the release of a summary of the draft recommendations. On Wednesday, the committee will host a hearing with elections officials and the leaders of the Department of Homeland Security on election security.

The committee’s summary calls for the federal government to “clearly communicate to adversaries that an attack on our election infrastructure is a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly.”

In calling for states to update their election technology, the summary recommends that states going forward purchase voting machines that at “a minimum” have a  “voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability.”

At the press conference, Intel senators stressed the need for states to use election equipment whose results can be audited with physical voting records.

“Fourteen states used voting equipment that had not audit-able voting trail,” Intel Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said, adding that his own state didn’t have a full system that had a paper trail and that it scrambled to implemented one in time for the 2017 elections.

The committee recommended that Congress pass legislation that boosts resources available to states for their election security. At the press conference, lawmakers stressed that states are still in charge of their elections, including the funding of them. However, they said they are considering legislation that would allow the feds to better assist states.

Some of that legislation has already been introduced. Other potential measures will fall under the jurisdiction of other committees, such as the Appropriations Committee or the Rules Committee, the lawmakers said.

The recommendations come as the other committees probing Russia have descended into partisan squabbling. Republicans on the House Intel Committee have wrapped up their inquiry, over Democrats’ objections, and are finishing their report. Senate Judiciary Republicans meanwhile have focused their scrutiny on Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who sought to expose allegations of connections between Russia and associates of President Trump.

Senate Intel has so far avoided any major public displays of dysfunction. There are still critical and more controversial questions lingering over their inquiry — and specifically those concerning Trump. But Senate Intel lawmakers have signaled they are seeking to move forward on at least the election security aspects of the their review ahead of the midterms.

“The Committee has reviewed the steps state and local election officials take to ensure the integrity of our elections and agrees that U.S. election infrastructure is fundamentally resilient,” Tuesday’s summary said.

Read the summary below:

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Senate Republicans don’t think it would be a good idea for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But few were willing on Monday to elaborate on what steps need to be taken to protect the special counsel, even after the President and his personal lawyer lashed out at Mueller by name over the weekend.

“I have zero concern that the President is going to fire Mueller. Zero,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, despite having introduced legislation that would prevent Trump from doing so.

Graham —  who on Sunday said that firing Mueller would be “the beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency – told reporters on Monday that he introduced the bill protecting the special counsel “to let people know where I stand.”

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President Trump’s campaign committee is fundraising off a controversial request from his Justice Department that the 2020 Census include a question about citizenship.

An email from the campaign committee poses a survey to recipients with the subject line “a truly simple question for you.”

“The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens,” the email said. “In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE… but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens. The President wants to know if you’re on his side.”

The email then includes a survey on the question that leads to page seeking contributions to the campaign.

Former Census officials, policy wonks and civil rights advocates have all come out against the idea of asking about citizenship status in the decennial census. They fear that it will depress participation — especially among minority and immigrant communities. Internal Census research has shown that the question prompts fears about confidentiality and privacy among survey takers. Even citizens who live with non-citizens might be fearful about participating if the question is included, particularly given the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, critics of the idea say.

An undercounting of urban and minority communities stands to shift political power and resources to rural and white communities.

Critics also say adding the question this late in Census planning period adds another practical complication for a Census already facing a number of logistical hurdles.

ProPublica reported recently that John Gore, a political appointee at the Justice Department who previously represented Republicans in high-profile voting rights lawsuits, was behind the request that Census Bureau consider adding the question. An aide to a former Republican senator who championed a bill to include the citizenship question has recently joined the Census as a political appointee, ProPublica also reported.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who will have the final say over whether the question is included, is required to submit to Congress the questions Census intends to ask by the end of the month.

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News broke late last week that the Federal Election Commission had opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russians illegally channeled money to the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But the FEC’s move, which came after a complaint from a Democratic group, amounts to little more than a standard response, experts say. It will likely be months before the matter moves up through the appropriate channels and the controversy-averse panel of commissioners votes on whether to launch a formal investigation. And they’re highly unlikely to vote to do so.

“Until the commission actually acts and votes — and they need four votes to open an actual investigation — it’s not really an investigation,” former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s just a sort of looking at the publicly available facts.”

According to Ravel, a Democrat appointed by President Barack Obama, that preliminary look could include examining existing campaign finance records already filed by the NRA, but won’t involve requesting new documents from the group.*

“There is no evidence gathering from the NRA, as a preliminary matter,” she said. “This would be highly unusual.”

And Ravel said it’s an extreme long-shot that the panel, which currently includes two appointees from each party, would vote to open a full-blown investigation.

“It would take everybody to agree to do it, which is highly unlikely,” said Ravel, who has publicly criticized the FEC’s Republican members for what she views as their unwillingness to enforce campaign finance laws.

Brad Woodhouse, the treasurer of ADLF and a long-time Democratic operative, provided to TPM the FEC’s response letter. The letter confirms receipt of the complaint, and lays out the process to determine whether the agency will open a formal probe.

“To the extent that Federal Election Commission is looking into this, we’re obviously pleased,” Woodhouse told TPM in a Monday phone call. “All of these financial transactions and relationships between the Trump campaign and Russia are presumably part of Mueller’s investigation, but this very specific allegation that we outlined in our complaint, that the NRA accepted illegal foreign money to do election activities in support of President Trump, is quite firmly an issue for the Federal Election Commission to investigate.”

“We hope that what we received from them, while probably standard, means they are taking this seriously and planning to investigate,” Woodhouse added.

It’s possible that Politico, which reported that the FEC was looking into the matter, has information suggesting that the agency is taking a more serious look than is typical into the issue.

The FEC cannot by law confirm or deny the existence of pending investigations.

“As you probably know, the Commissioners have to vote at many junctures when considering an enforcement matter, including a vote to authorize an investigation,” an agency spokesperson told TPM in a statement. “That vote would take place only after the Office of General Counsel produces a report on the allegations — after respondents have been given an opportunity to respond to those allegations — and recommendations on how to handle the matter.”

In fact, that explanation downplays the complexity of the process. Most FEC investigations start with a complaint, which is referred to a body in the general counsel’s office — known as the Complaints Examination & Legal Administration (CELA) office — for processing. Complainants receive notification that their documents have been filed — that’s the letter Woodhouse received — while respondents receive a heads up and are given a 15-day period in which they can provide evidence challenging the complaint’s validity. If it moves forward, CELA decides where the complaint should be prioritized among the long list of matters already awaiting FEC consideration.

The general counsel’s office then spends considerable time gathering facts and putting together a report laying out a recommendation for whether or not there is “reason to believe” the respondent has violated or is about to violate election law. Finally, the commission votes on whether to initiate a full investigation.

The chronically short-staffed agency is currently down two commissioners. Republican Lee Goodman resigned abruptly in February, leaving only two Republicans and two Democrats on what is typically a six-person panel. At least four commissioners need to vote together in order for any probe to get underway.

The FEC is notoriously hamstrung by partisan bias and averse to involving itself in high-profile, partisan legal matters. The ADLF’s complaint touches on red-hot issues including the federal Russia probe, the funding sources of the country’s largest gun lobby, the 2016 presidential campaign, and dark money ads.

Still, the agency is only one potential avenue for probing whether the NRA received Russian money and used it for political ends. McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating the issue. And Democrats in the Senate and House have asked questions of the gun group.

*This sentence has been edited to clarify the FEC’s process.

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