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"Perfect storm" of problems blocked Trump-era campaign finance investigations

A "perfect storm" of procedural blockades prevented the investigation and sanctioning of alleged Trump campaign election law violations, regulators said this week.

Why it matters: Legitimate cases are being dismissed. And critics say the Federal Election Commission's inability to crack down on many bad actors has undercut the threat of enforcement, and turned campaign financing into the Wild West.

What's new: The FEC is clearing out a backlog of Trump-related cases. One of them, officially tossed last month, shows how the nation's top political money regulator has been hobbled.

  • The case stemmed from a December 2015 complaint lodged by a pro-Jeb Bush super PAC.
  • It alleged that a pair of Trump Organization employees, Michael Cohen and Alan Garten, had illegally used corporate resources to support Trump's presidential campaign.
  • "The record supports these allegations," declared two of the FEC's Democratic commissioners in a statement on Wednesday.

Both of those commissioners, and their four colleagues, nonetheless voted to dismiss the case.

  • It wasn't for lack of evidence. Separate criminal investigations, including Robert Mueller's election-meddling probe, provided ample evidence that Trump effectively took illegal corporate contributions by enlisting Cohen and Garten in his presidential campaign.
  • But the FEC had to wait for those separate investigations to end before taking its own enforcement action.
  • When that finally concluded, the FEC had just three commissioners — one short of the quorum necessary to take any enforcement action.
  • By the time a quorum was restored and the FEC actually took up the case, the five-year statute of limitations had run out.

What they're saying: "The commission found itself in the middle of a perfect storm of unique and unfortunate circumstances that prevented it from moving forward in this case," the two Democratic commissioners, Ellen Weintraub and Shana Broussard, wrote this week.

  • "[A]t the time the commission was finally able to consider and vote on this matter, we were ultimately left with no meaningful enforcement options."

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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