● FL-05, 10: The usual pattern is that the first sign of legal trouble for a congressperson is an Ethics Committee investigation, and if things go really awry, they might progress to investigation by federal law enforcement agencies. That's not how it worked for Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, though, who received an out-of-the-blue subpoena in January, and only on Wednesday became the subject of a House Ethics inquiry.
Brown was mum in January about the subject of the mysterious subpoena, but the nature of the problem is becoming somewhat clearer. The head "of an organization tied to Brown" pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud earlier this month, and the House Ethics statement alleges that Brown:
"may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible non-official purposes, failed to comply with tax laws and made false statements, and/or failed to make required disclosures..."
The more immediate problem, as far as House Ethics is concerned, is that it looks like Brown used the House seal in her solicitations for a charity called One Door for Education (House members can't use the seal except in official correspondence). The larger legal problem, though, may be that One Door for Education doesn't seem to have the requisite tax-exempt status required for charitable organizations, and, for that matter, doesn't seem to do much of anything. According to prosecutors, One Door took in $800,000 in donations but only issued a single $1,000 scholarship in furtherance of its supposed mission.
All of this is unhelpful for Brown, who's facing her first competitive primary in many years, thanks to redistricting. Brown still hasn't announced if she'll run for the 5th District, where her Jacksonville base is, or in the Orlando 10th District. If Brown goes south, she'll enter a crowded primary where national Democrats have already consolidated behind ex-Orlando Police Chief Val Demings. If she runs in the 5th, she'll face ex-state Sen. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee-area politician who ran high-profile races in FL-02 in 2010 and 2012. Even under ordinary circumstances, facing Lawson or Demings and hundreds of thousands of voters who don't know her would be tough. But with this controversy hanging over her head, Brown's 24-year time in the House might be ended at the ballot box or through retirement before the wheels of justice are done turning.
● IA-Sen: Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Patty Judge's decision to challenge Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley was considered a bit of a coup in the national press, but if you looked a little deeper, there were some questions about whether she had the support back home to get out of the June primary first. She faces state Sen. Rob Hogg, who nailed down the backing of 63 of the state's 68 Democratic legislators months ago, most notably state Senate President Pam Jochum and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. Judge, however, has been able to round up a lot support elsewhere, and she rolled out a list of endorsers on Wednesday, with ex-Rep. Leonard Boswell probably the most notable name. She also claims the support of every living Democratic woman who has held statewide office in Iowa (ex-Secretary of State Elaine Baxter and ex-Lt. Govs Sally Pederson and Jo Ann Zimmerman), along with a long list of county party chairs.
● IN-Sen: One Nation is one of the zillions of generically-patriotically-named outside money groups that run ads on behalf of Republican candidates, and they're one of the more establishment-flavored ones, sharing leadership with the Karl Rove-linked Crossroads. In the past, they've only weighed in on general elections, but their new ad is a change in direction, perhaps reflecting the broader GOP civil war: they're getting involved in a contested GOP primary. Their new commercial is a positive spot bolstering Rep. Todd Young, touting his intelligence officer background. There's no mention of his tea party-ish opponent, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (who has the backing of more anti-establishment groups like Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund). The size of the buy is $250,000.
● PA-Sen: The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has endorsed Katie McGinty over 2010 nominee Joe Sestak and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman in the April 26 primary. Obviously, this isn't a surprising move, since McGinty got into the race largely against Sen. Pat Toomey because the DSCC was casting about for an alternative to Sestak. It's hard to imagine that any Pennsylvanians are actually wondering whom the DSCC would back before making their own decision, so the odd timing of the endorsement is probably more about signaling to big donors that she needs a last-minute fundraising push.
● WI-Sen: It's a fair question whether Wisconsin's Ron Johnson or Illinois's Mark Kirk is the most endangered Senate Republican this year. Kirk is in a bluer state, but Kirk occasionally tries to sound moderate, while Johnson keeps plowing ahead undaunted like he's the senator from Oklahoma rather than Wisconsin. And we've certainly seen more polls showing Johnson consistently trailing ex-Sen. Russ Feingold, often by double digits. Either way, most prognosticators think that Johnson is, likelier than not, going to need a new job in 2017.
Johnson does have one Republican establishment player coming to his defense, though. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Johnson on Wednesday as part of their first wave of congressional endorsement for the cycle. But it's far from clear whether the deep-pocketed Chamber plans to do anything else for him, or if it's just a friendly "attaboy." The Chamber's spokesperson "declined to comment" on whether it will be running any TV ads on his behalf at any point.
The wealthy Johnson did partially self-fund his 2010 victory, though it's unclear whether he'd be able (or willing) to spend enough to replicate that feat under the much less favorable circumstances of a presidential year, especially one where he might be holding onto Donald Trump's reverse coattails. (Johnson said last year that he wouldn't put his own money into this race, but he'd be far from the first wealthy politician to change his mind.) Roll Call's writeup also suggests he might get more ad help from a more explicitly right-wing group like the Club for Growth or Americans for Prosperity, who might see Johnson as more of a kindred spirit than the Chamber does. But even they might do the math and find that Johnson is already just simply too far outside of any possible GOP firewall, when the real battle will be more about trying to hold states like Pennsylvania and Ohio in order to preserve a bare majority.
● WV-Gov: On Wednesday, billionaire Jim Justice received the endorsement of Sen. Joe Manchin, the biggest-name Democratic politician left in the state. This may not have been an easy decision for Manchin, since he's also on good terms with the Goodwin family (Manchin appointed Carte Goodwin to the Senate after Robert Byrd's death) and this meant passing over Goodwin's cousin, former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Manchin has probably noticed, though, that Justice has been in the strongest position in the polls and has the financial resources to wrap things up. The primary is in May.
● FL-02: Physician Neal Dunn has been laboring under the dreaded label of "RINO" in his fight to win the Republican nomination in this safely red seat, mostly owing to previous contributions to Democratic politicians. He can counter to those claims, though, with a new endorsement from very conservative (but still establishment-friendly) Rep. Jeff Miller, who represents the neighboring 1st district in the Panhandle. Miller is retiring, so he doesn't have to worry about bringing RINO cooties from Dunn back to his own district.
● MD-08: State Sen. Jamie Raskin is running as the most progressive option in the primary for this safely blue suburban DC seat, and his first TV ad emphasizes that message: The spot crams as many of his legislative accomplishments as possible into its tiny 15-second span. The other candidates running ads in this expensive primary are Kathleen Matthews and David Trone.
● MI-10, Where Are They Now?: When Republican Rep. Candice Miller announced her retirement at the end of this term, many people's assumption was that she might be gearing up for a gubernatorial bid in 2018. However, Miller has thrown us a curveball, announcing on Wednesday that she's running for Macomb County public works commissioner. And yes, that's the same infrastructure-maintenance job that in smaller counties in Michigan is known as drain commissioner. It's still possible she's just using that as a two-year interim position to stay active while laying gubernatorial groundwork behind the scenes, but it's also possible that she's just looking to downshift to something less stressful at the end of her career.
● NC-09, 13: Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger announced a while ago that he would seek re-election in the 9th district in Charlotte's suburbs (which, while redrawn in court-order redistricting, isn't as dramatically changed as, say, the 2nd or the 12th), but he's facing a couple bits of bad news. First, the FBI and IRS investigation into his 2012 campaign doesn't seem to be going away. Federal investigators have conducted several interviews of Pittenger associates in recent weeks: The controversy is over contributions made from his company, Pittenger Land Investments, to his campaign.
The other problem is that Pittenger has traded a weak primary foe for a potentially stronger one. Former CIA agent George Rouco had been running against Pittenger for months, but he had little money or name recognition. Redistricting placed him in the 13th District and on Wednesday, Rouco announced that he would join the crowded GOP field there instead. However, ex-Union County Commissioner Todd Johnson has filed to take on Pittenger in the June primary. It's far from clear if Johnson has the money and connections he needs to run a credible campaign, but if the Pittenger Land Investments investigation draws more headlines in the next few months, the congressman could be in trouble.
● NE-02: Retired Brig. Gen. Don Bacon seems to have the upper hand in gaining the Republican nomination to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in this GOP-leaning district in Omaha. Bacon already has some backers like ex-Gov. Kay Orr and a variety of local-level names, but now he has the endorsement of Sen. Deb Fischer.
Bacon's opponent, ex-state Sen. Chip Maxwell, may have hurt himself with the local establishment in 2014 when he made a brief run as a right-leaning independent against then-Rep. Lee Terry and Ashford. Ashford might be the House Democrats' most endangered incumbent, given his so-so fundraising (though he has markedly improved in recent months), his antipathy toward negative campaigning or even tooting his own horn, and his light-red district — but Bacon and especially Maxwell have been very lousy fundraisers.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and Stephen Wolf.