News You Can Use Digest - April 12, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

April 12, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 12, 2024


Woman Sentenced to Month in Prison Over Theft of Ashley Biden’s Diary

DNyuz – Adam Goldman (New York Times) | Published: 4/9/2024

A federal judge sentenced Aimee Harris to a month in prison for her role in a brazen scheme to steal the diary of President Biden’s daughter and sell it to a right-wing group in the hope of disrupting the 2020 election. In August 2022, Aimee Harris pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport the stolen diary to New York, where she met with employees of Project Veritas and sold it for $40,000 just weeks before the election.

How the No Labels 2024 Presidential Campaign Failed to Launch

MSN – Ken Thomas and Kristina Peterson (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 4/4/2024

No Labels, the centrist group which has sought to field a third-party presidential bid, is abandoning efforts to create a “unity ticket” aiming to win the White House. Even as the group cited polling showing public dissatisfaction with President Biden and Donald Trump and support for a generic third-party candidate, No Labels could not convince any prominent leaders to mount a challenge that aimed to become the first substantial third-party effort since independent Ross Perot’s showing in the 1992 election.

Judge Cannon Shoots Down Trump’s Presidential Records Act Claim

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon rejected Donald Trump’s bid to have his charges of mishandling classified documents dismissed on the grounds that a federal records law protected him from prosecution. The judge also defended her handling of the issue from special counsel Jack Smith, which had surprised legal experts and rankled prosecutors. Cannon’s decision comes two days after Smith criticized the rationale behind the judge’s demand for prospective jury instructions that seemed to largely adopt Trump’s interpretation of the law.

Super PACs Keep Testing the Limits of Campaign Finance Law

MSN – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 4/8/2024

Super PACs keep pushing the boundaries of campaign finance law this cycle. They are using novel financial arrangements, like taking “bridge funding” in the form of loans from major donors or receiving ad revenue from a candidate’s podcast. They are also continuing to take advantage of long-standing loopholes in anti-coordination guidelines. Outside spending continues to increase dramatically.

Special Counsel Urges Supreme Court to Reject Trump’s Immunity Claim

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/8/2024

Special counsel Jack Smith urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Donald Trump’s “novel and sweeping” claim that he is immune from criminal prosecution on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The ruling will determine whether and how quickly Trump faces trial. The justices’ decision to take up Trump’s claim, rather than let stand an appeals court decision that he can be prosecuted, has drawn criticism for delaying the trial, which initially was scheduled to begin in early March.

House Subpoena Lawsuit Risks Change to Oversight Power

MSN – Ryan Tarinelli (Roll Call) | Published: 4/8/2024

The House Judiciary Committee teed up a high-stakes legal clash with the Justice Department in a lawsuit that could influence congressional oversight authority far beyond the GOP’s impeachment investigation into President Biden, legal experts say. The committee’s lawsuit against two Justice Department attorneys asks a federal court to compel the officials to testify about the criminal case against Hunter Biden.

Trump’s The Likely GOP Nominee. He Can Serve Even If Convicted of a Crime.

MSN – David Nakamura (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2024

Donald Trump is facing felony charges in four separate criminal indictments in three states and the District of Columbia, with a guilty verdict in any of the cases possibly meaning a prison sentence. The circumstances have raised an often-asked question: Could Trump, or anyone else, be convicted of a felony and serve as commander in chief, possibly from prison? The short answer, legal experts said, is yes – because the U.S. Constitution does not forbid it.

Content Creators Ask Meta to Reverse Politics Limits on Instagram, Threads

MSN – Taylor Lorenz (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2024

Hundreds of political and news content creators signed an open letter to Meta asking the company to reverse its decision to limit the reach of accounts posting “political content” on Threads and Instagram. Meta announced in February it no longer would recommend content about politics and social issues on the two social media platforms, which have tens of millions of users in the U.S. Independent journalists and content creators say they have struggled to reach their audiences since the change was rolled out. They say the limits have significantly affected creators who are Black, female, and LGBTQ.

US Judicial Panel Proposes Greater Amicus Brief Financial Disclosures

Reuters – Nate Raymond | Published: 4/10/2024

A federal judicial panel called for greater transparency requirements for outside groups that file amicus briefs in cases by mandating they disclose when much of their revenue comes from a party involved in the lawsuit or its attorneys. The U.S. Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules endorsed the proposal following calls by Democratic lawmakers and others for changes to shed a light on the extent to which litigants secretly fund efforts to influence cases’ outcomes through amicus, or friend-of-the-court, briefs.

Watchdog Groups Say Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ‘Brazenly Violated’ Federal Election Campaign Act

Yahoo News – Hogan Gore (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 4/9/2024

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a formal complaint over more than $630,000 sent from the company that syndicates his podcast to a super PAC supporting his reelection bid. The Campaign Legal Center and End Citizens United allege Cruz violated the Federal Election Campaign Act after iHeartMedia made deposits to The Truth and Courage PAC, which then reported the payments as “other federal receipts” rather than campaign contributions. The complaint says iHeartMedia’s donations qualify as “soft money” solicited or directed from Cruz.

Thousands of Alleged Lobbying Violations Languish at Justice Department

Yahoo News – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 4/4/2024

Federal lobbyists must file new registrations within 45 days, quarterly disclosures detailing specific lobbying activities and how much they were paid, and semiannual political contribution reports. When a lobbyist or firm fails to comply, the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House notify them and make referrals to the U.S. attorney’s office when they fail to provide a proper response. The Government Accountability Office found thousands of reports of lobbying and political donation violations remain unresolved years after they were referred.

As Kushner’s Investment Firm Steps Out, the Potential Conflicts Are Growing

Yahoo News – Eric Lipton, Jonathan Swain, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 4/9/2024

Jared Kushner’s investment fund is not especially large by global finance standards. But as he gets it fully up and running, each step is bringing with it ethical issues that would only grow if his father-in-law, Donald Trump, should win another term as president. Kushner’s $3 billion fund is financed almost entirely from overseas investors with whom he worked when he served as a senior adviser in the Trump White House.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Alabama Ethics Commissioner Resigns, Decision Comes as Senate Considers Ethics Law Change

MSN – Darryl Burke (WHNT) | Published: 4/10/2024

Stan McDonald resigned his seat on the Alabama Ethics Commission. The decision comes as the Senate considers a bill that would overhaul the existing state ethics code. According to campaign finance records, McDonald made contributions to at least one political campaign after being appointed to the commission in 2019. Members of the Ethics Commission are not allowed to make political donations.

Arizona – ‘Catastrophic,’ ‘a Shock’: Arizona’s Abortion Ruling Threatens to Upend 2024 Races

MSN – Maegan Vazquez and Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2024

The Arizona Supreme Court revived a near-total ban on abortion, invoking an 1864 law that forbids the procedure except to save a mother’s life and punishes providers with prison time. The decision supersedes the state’s previous rule, which permitted abortions up to 15 weeks. While several states have enacted abortion restrictions, protecting access to reproductive care has been a winning issue for Democratic candidates. As a battleground state, there is a lot on the line in Arizona’s looming elections.

Arizona – Arizona Politicians’ Fundraising to Be Public Under Bill Inspired by Republic Reporting

Yahoo News – Stacey Barchinger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 4/8/2024

Arizonans will be able to see the political fundraising and spending of the state’s most powerful elected officials much sooner and more often under a measure signed into law recently. The law requires statewide officeholders, like the governor, attorney general, and others to report their finances to the public four times a year. They must do so during each of the three years between their elections.

California – How Long Before California’s Campaign Finance Website Is Replaced?

CalMatters – Sameea Kamal | Published: 4/3/2024

Cal-Access, the antiquated web portal to track California’s campaign money and lobbying, probably will not be replaced before December 2026. Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s office is currently evaluating bids and expects to have a primary vendor by this summer. An independent review estimates the project could take 27 months.

California – Every Vote Counts. Just Ask These Two Candidates Tied with Exactly 30,249 Votes Each

CalMatters – Yue Stalla Yu | Published: 4/4/2024

Whoever did not vote in a U.S. House primary in California may have helped make history. Tied for second in the March 5 election, with exactly 30,249 votes each, state Assemblyperson Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian are both advancing to the November general election, joining top vote-getter Sam Liccardo, a former mayor of San Jose. The stage is set for a competitive three-way November runoff, the first since California adopted its new primary system in 2012.

Colorado – Colorado GOP Ousts Reporter from Event, Claiming ‘Unfair’ Coverage

MSN – Anumita Kaur (Washington Post) | Published: 4/9/2024

The Colorado Republican Party expelled journalist Sandra Fish from its recent event in Pueblo after she was told the party chairperson finds her reporting “very unfair.” A sheriff’s deputy escorted the longtime reporter out, drawing backlash from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and fellow journalists who criticized the move as an affront to democracy.

District of Columbia – Justice Official Clark Violated Ethics in Aiding Trump, D.C. Bar Panel Finds

MSN – Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 4/3/2024

A District of Columbia Bar committee ruled former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark violated at least one rule of ethics and should face professional sanctions for trying to use the department’s influence to help reverse Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat. The discipline could include revocation of his law license, blocking him from practicing law in the nation’s capital.

Florida – Miami City Attorney Helped Steer $10M Meant for Citywide Projects to Carollo’s District

MSN – Tess Riski, Joey Flechas, and Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 4/11/2024

When a developer came to the Miami City Commission with a deal to build a luxury high-rise on city-owned land, commissioners approved the project. As part of the agreement, the developer promised to give the city $10 million for park improvements and other public benefits across Miami. But the city attorney’s office and other officials quietly reshaped the deal to shift those funds to a single district. Behind-the-scenes revisions to the contract meant the money would be given to Commissioner Joe Carollo’s district, where the high-rise site is located.

Florida – Sarasota City Attorney to Prepare a Potential Ordinance to Track Political Lobbying

Yahoo News – Christian Casale (Sarasota Herald Tribune) | Published: 4/4/2024

Sarasota leaders will explore an ordinance to regulate lobbying in City Hall after several ethics issues have come up. City Commissioner Erik Arroyo said he envisioned a registration requirement for anyone paid to lobby the city and a requirement they disclose their clients. The information would be kept in a digital, publicly accessible database.

Georgia – Judge Rejects Trump’s First Amendment Challenge to Indictment in Georgia Election Case

MSN – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 4/4/2024

The judge overseeing the Georgia election interference case against Donald Trump and others rejected arguments by the former president that the indictment seeks to criminalize speech protected by the First Amendment. Trump’s attorneys argued that all the charges against him involved political speech that is protected even if the speech ends up being false.

Georgia – Former City of Atlanta Executive, Jim Beard, Enters Plea Deal in Federal Court

WXIA – Meleah Lyden | Published: 4/9/2024

A former chief financial officer in Atlanta pleaded guilty in federal court to taking money from the city and using tax deductions he was not eligible for. Jim Beard admitted using city money for personal expenses, including two custom-built machine guns he had ordered using his professional email address. He also took tax deductions of $12,000, which were based on false submissions.

Kansas – Kansas Newspaper Publisher Sues Over Police Raid, Claiming Retaliation

MSN – Praveena Somasundaram (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2024

The publisher of a Kansas newspaper that was raided by police in August is now suing officials involved in the move, accusing them of retaliating against the paper and violating its First Amendment rights. The unprecedented raid on the Marion County Record’s newsroom and the home of its editor and publisher, Eric Meyer, alarmed press and free-speech advocates across the country. Meyer alleges in the lawsuit that the stress of the raid led to the sudden death of his mother, who lived with him and co-owned the paper.

Maryland – Maryland Town Apologizes, Offers Amends to Settle Voting Rights Lawsuit

MSN – Joe Heim (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2024

The small town of Federalsburg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore settled a federal voting rights lawsuit by agreeing to apologize for its history of racism, committing to actions that acknowledge Black contributions to the town, and promote reconciliation. The town also will pay $260,000 in legal fees by 2030 to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which brought the lawsuit. Last year, following changes to the voting system overseen by a judge, the 200-year-old town with a population that is 43 percent Black elected its first Black representative.

Maryland – Baltimore County Official Helped Investigate Former Employee Who Lodged Complaints About Her

MSN – Lia Russell (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/10/2024

An official being considered for Baltimore County’s highest appointed position helped police investigate a former employee who accused her and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. of ethics violations. D’Andrea Walker, whom Olszewski nominated to become county administrative officer, was the acting director of the county Department of Public Works and Transportation when she provided security footage and information to a detective who was investigating Michael Beichler, her former Solid Waste Management bureau chief, at the request of Olszewski’s aide, according to a police report and emails.

Maryland – Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott Received Money from 9 Donors Who Exceeded $6K Limit

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/11/2024

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has received campaign contributions above the maximum from at least nine donors this election cycle, violating state campaign finance law. Most of the problem donations, which amount to an extra $29,250, are the result of multiple contributions, some made in early 2023, before the mayoral campaign was underway, combined with others made more recently. Maryland operates on a four-year campaign cycle, and individual donors are allowed to give only $6,000 during that span.

Michigan – Judge Shows Mercy to Ex-Romulus Mayor Who Spent Campaign Money on Yacht Club, Wedding

Yahoo News – Tresa Baldas (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 4/4/2024

Former Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff used campaign funds to help pay for his daughter’s wedding, his yacht club dues, and a Florida vacation with friends but he is not going to prison for any of it, despite his guilty plea. Instead, a federal judge gave Burcroff three years’ probation and four months’ home confinement, sparing him a prison sentence the government sought.

New Jersey – Top NJ Legislators Failed to Disclose Campaign Spending. They Still Haven’t Fixed Reports

MSN – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 4/3/2024

New Jersey’s most powerful legislators, Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, have not filed amended reports nearly a month after media stories said they failed to properly disclose certain campaign spending. Critics of a controversial campaign finance overhaul said they wanted to examine provisions of the law, mainly a change that slashes the amount of time the Election Law Enforcement Commission has to investigate potential campaign finance violations from 10 years down to two years.

New York – Senate Democrats Renew Push for Changes to Matching Funds Program

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 4/4/2024

State Senate Democrats are renewing their push to raise the threshold of campaign contributions a candidate needs to be eligible for New York’s new matching funds program. Sen. James Skoufis introduced an amended version of the legislation Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed in December. This time, lawmakers excluded what was widely viewed as the most controversial element of their proposal: allowing the first $250 of any contribution to be eligible for matching funds.

New York – Conservative Hoaxers to Pay Up to $1.25M Under Agreement with New York Over 2020 Robocall Scheme

MSN – Anthony Izaguirre (Associated Press) | Published: 4/9/2024

Two conservative political operatives who orchestrated a robocall campaign to dissuade Black people from voting in the 2020 election have agreed to pay up to $1.25 million under a settlement with New York Attorney General Letitia James. The operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, were accused of making robocalls to phone numbers in predominately Black neighborhoods in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois that told people they could be subjected to arrest, debt collection, and forced vaccination if they voted by mail.

New York – Ex-Trump Company Executive Weisselberg Sentenced to 5 Months in Jail

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2024

A longtime executive at Donald Trump’s company was sentenced to five months in jail after pleading guilty to lying under oath in the New York attorney general’s civil investigation into business practices at the Trump Organization and at the trial that resulted from it. Allen Weisselberg, who worked for the Trump family for a half-century before retiring recently, is expected to serve his sentence at Rikers Island.

New York – NYC Council Bill Would Ban Political Consultants, Fundraisers from Lobbying Former Clients

MSN – Michael Gartland (New York Daily News) | Published: 4/11/2024

Legislation introduced in the New York City Council would ban campaign fundraisers and consultants from lobbying their former bosses for two years after those politicians take office. Two of the most notable people who could be impacted by the new bill are Mayor Eric Adams’ longtime compliance attorney, Vito Pitta, and the top fundraiser for his 2021 campaign, Brianna Suggs, whose home was raided as part of a federal probe into the campaign’s ties to Turkey.

New York – Trump Fails to Delay N.Y. Criminal Trial for a Third Time This Week

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2024

Donald Trump’s attorneys failed to persuade an appeals court judge to delay the former president’s New York criminal trial by saying the presiding judge was not qualified to oversee the proceedings. The appeals court judge, Ellen Gesmer, denied Trump’s request shortly after it was argued at an emergency session. It was Trump’s third attempt to delay his trial on charges of falsifying business documents to help cover up an affair that allegedly happened a decade before the 2016 election.

Ohio – FirstEnergy Made Secret $1 Million Payment for ‘Husted Campaign’ in 2017, Documents Show

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 4/10/2024

FirstEnergy, at the onset of what would become one of Ohio’s biggest public corruption schemes, gave a $1 million contribution to a nonprofit backing now-Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who was running for governor at the time, new records show. The donation was made in 2017 to Freedom Frontier, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that can accept unlimited funds from corporations without disclosing the source. FirstEnergy’s internal records classify the payment as for the “Husted campaign.”

Ohio – Ex-PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo Accused in FirstEnergy Bribery Scheme Has Died

MSN – Laura Bischoff and Jessie Balmert (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 4/10/2024

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairperson Sam Randazzo, who was facing criminal charges over a bribery scandal, has died by suspected suicide. Randazzo was recently accused of accepting $4.3 million from FirstEnergy to help the utility with a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants and regulation that would have cost the company money. He was also accused of embezzling from his clients.

Ohio – The Ohio Law That Could Keep Joe Biden Off the Ballot Has Been in Place for Years. Why Wasn’t It an Issue Until Now?

MSN – Andrew Tobias and Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 4/8/2024

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden all have appeared on Ohio’s November ballots despite their parties nominating them after an obscure deadline in state law But that same deadline could prevent President Biden from qualifying for Ohio’s November ballot this year, a development that might have wide-reaching ramifications for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Ohio Democrats unless a court or Republican lawmakers agree to intervene, a top lawyer for GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose warned.

Oklahoma – Campaign Finance Task Force Takes Aim at Outside Spending

Oklahoma Watch – Keaton Ross | Published: 4/4/2024

Politically active nonprofits allowed to spend unlimited amounts to sway Oklahoma voters should face greater scrutiny, a gubernatorial task force declared in its final report. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission could propose rules based on the report’s recommendations, which would take effect at the end of the legislative session in which they were considered unless the Legislature or governor objects.

Oregon – Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek to Seek Guidance from Ethics Commission Around First Lady’s Role

MSN – Dianne Lugo (Salem Statesman Journal) | Published: 4/3/2024

Gov. Tina Kotek said she is sending questions seeking clarification on what is appropriate for the role of the first spouse to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which is reviewing a complaint against the governor related to questions about her wife’s role in her administration. It has been reported that three of the governor’s top aides have resigned over First Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson’s involvement in the administration.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Supreme Court Liberal Won’t Run Again, Shaking Up Race for Control

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2024

The longest-serving member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s liberal majority announced she would not run for reelection next spring, shaking up a consequential race in a swing state and improving the odds that conservatives can retake the control they lost last year. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s unexpected retirement sets the stage for an intense race for control of the court two years after candidates, political parties, and interest groups spent more than $50 million in the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history.

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