April 14, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 14, 2023
Appeals Court Upholds ‘Obstruction’ Charge Used Against Hundreds of Jan. 6 Rioters, for Now
ABC News – Ryan Reilly | Published: 4/7/2023
A federal appeals court panel affirmed the government’s use of an obstruction charge used against hundreds of defendants arrested in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol, though the complex opinion appears likely to result in additional litigation and leaves questions about the future of the use of the statute. A three-judge panel upheld the use of the obstruction of an official proceeding charge against defendants who assaulted law enforcement during the attack.
NPR Quits Elon Musk’s Twitter Over ‘Government-Funded’ Label
ABC News – Timothy O’Brien (Associated Press) | Published: 4/12/2023
National Public Radio (NPR) is quitting Twitter after the social media platform owned by Elon Musk stamped NPR’s account with labels the news organization says undermine its credibility. Twitter labeled NPR’s main account as “state-affiliated media,” a term also used to identify media outlets controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments, such as Russia and China. Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media.”
Judge Limits Fox’s Options for Defense in Dominion Trial
DNyuz – Jeremy Peters (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
A judge ruled Fox News could not argue it broadcast false information about Dominion Voting Systems on the basis that the allegations were newsworthy, limiting a key line of defense for the network as it faces the beginning of a potentially costly defamation trial. The judge also ruled Dominion could not refer to the assault on the Capitol except in very narrow circumstances, saying he did not want jurors to be prejudiced by events that were not relevant to the central question in the case: did Fox air wild claims about Dominion’s purported involvement in a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump knowing they were lies?
New Pressure to End Old Senate Practice After Mississippi Judicial Pick Is Blocked
DNyuz – Carl Hulse (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Democrats hoped they were on the verge of a judicial breakthrough when President Biden nominated a Baton Rouge lawyer for a U.S. District Court vacancy and the two Republican senators from Louisiana offered no objections. Getting Republican senators to sign off on Biden nominees in their home states has been a struggle, slowing the Democratic drive to fill as many judicial slots as possible. But U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican of Mississippi, then said she would not allow the nomination of Scott Colom, a candidate for a court vacancy in the state, to move forward, citing his past political support from the left, among other reasons.
Witnesses Asked About Trump’s Handling of Map with Classified Information
DNyuz – Maggie Haberman, Adam Goldman, and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 4/12/2023
Investigators are asking witnesses whether former President Trump showed off to aides and visitors a map he took with him when he left office that contains sensitive intelligence information. The map has been just one focus of the Justice Department probe into Trump’s handling of classified documents after he departed the White House. One person briefed on the matter said investigators have asked about Trump showing the map while aboard a plane. Another said investigators appeared to believe Trump showed the map to at least one adviser after leaving office.
Special Counsel Focuses on Trump Fundraising Off False Election Claims
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, Rosalind Helderman, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
Federal prosecutors probing the attack on the U.S. Capitol have in recent weeks sought a wide range of documents related to fundraising after the 2020 election, looking to determine if former President Trump or his advisers scammed donors by using false claims about voter fraud to raise money. The fundraising prong of the investigation is focused on money raised during the period between November 3, 2020, and the end of Trump’s time in office, and prosecutors are said to be interested in whether anyone associated with the operation violated wire fraud laws, which make it illegal to make false representations over email to swindle people out of money.
Meta Won’t Say If Politicians Can Post AI-Made Fakes Without Warnings
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/7/2023
Political campaign operatives wrote to Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, asking how the company planned to address AI-generated fake images on its platforms. The inquiry testified to growing concern about the technology’s impact on American democracy among some of the top strategists preparing for the 2024 election. A Meta employee replied to the operatives saying such images, rather than being treated as manipulated media and removed under certain conditions, were being reviewed by independent fact-checkers who work with the company to examine misinformation and apply warning labels to dubious content.
New Report Outlines the Deep Political Polarization’s Slow and Steady March
MSN – Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 4/8/2023
New research by David Wasserman, senor editor at the Cook Political Report, examines all 435 U.S. House districts to explain the geographical roots of political polarization and how hollowed-out the political middle has become. Although legislative gerrymandering plays a key role in letting representatives choose their constituents, the nation’s “urban/rural polarization” has been a much bigger factor over the past 25 years, Wasserman wrote. “The electorate has simply become much more homogenous than it used to be,” he said.
Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire
ProPublica – Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 4/6/2023
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips around the globe for more than two decades, including travel on a superyacht and private jet, from a prominent Republican donor without disclosing them. ProPublica reported on an array of trips funded by Harlan Crow, a Dallas businessperson. There are few restrictions on what gifts justices can accept. But Thomas’s failure to report the flights appears to violate a law that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts, ethics law experts said.
Pressured by Their Base on Abortion, Republicans Strain to Find a Way Forward
Yahoo News – Jonathan Weisman (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Republican leaders have followed an emboldened base of conservative activists into what increasingly looks like a political cul-de-sac on the issue of abortion – a tightly confined absolutist position that has limited their options ahead of the 2024 election season, even as some in the party push for moderation. Some Republicans are warning the uncompromising position of their party’s activist base could be leading them over an electoral cliff next year.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Republican Said She ‘Barely’ Met with Lobbyists, but Her Calendar Shows Otherwise
Arizona Mirror – Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Published: 4/10/2023
Arizona Sen. Justine Wadsack recently said she “barely” meets with lobbyists after she faced criticism from gun control lobbyists who she refused to meet, but a copy of her legislative calendar shows the lawmaker meets regularly with lobbyists and special interest groups. Public records revealed the majority of Wadsacks’ meetings were with lobbyists, many of whom do not reside in her legislative district. Wadsack’s calendar listed four meetings with voters from her district, and more than 30 meetings with lobbyists and special interest groups.
Arizona – Arizona House Republicans Expel One of Their Own
DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 4/12/2023
The Arizona House expelled a Republican lawmaker who organized a presentation by an insurance agent who made unsubstantiated accusations that a wide range of politicians, judges, and public officials of both parties took bribes from a Mexican drug cartel. Rep. Liz Harris’s ouster came a day after the House Ethics Committee determined Harris violated legislative rules by inviting a witness to present false testimony.
Arizona – Printer Glitches in Ariz. Election Not Due to Malfeasance, Review Finds
MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2023
The combination of heavier paper and longer ballots was responsible for problems tabulating votes at dozens of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona, during last November’s midterm elections. The report’s public release marks the latest chapter in the board of supervisors’ quest to tamp down conspiracy theories about elections in the county, which is home to more than half the state’s voters. The printer problems caused confusion on Election Day as tabulators at the affected sites rejected faulty ballots.
California – What Happened on Ash Street? How a Criminal Probe into Suspected Conspiracy to ‘Defraud the City’ Was Settled with a Single Misdemeanor
MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 4/9/2023
When an investigator for District Attorney Summer Stephan was seeking warrants to search Jason Hughes’ home and office, he described a far-reaching conspiracy to swindle San Diego taxpayers out of millions of dollars through two separate real estate deals. Nearly two years later, Hughes pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, the only defendant in a criminal probe that had earlier implicated some of the most powerful elected officials and political donors in the city. Legal experts and pundits are debating what drove judges to push for settlements in the criminal and civil cases and why San Diego officials agreed to them.
California – Bredefeld, Chavez Slap Back at Fresno County Campaign Transfer Limit. It’s Heading to Court
Yahoo News – Tim Sheehan (Fresno Bee) | Published: 4/12/2023
Two Fresno City Council members filed a motion asking a judge to find unconstitutional a county ordinance limiting what they can transfer into their pending campaigns for county office. Fresno County adopted an ordinance in 2020 that put a $30,000 cap on transfers or contributions from a candidate’s campaign account for non-county elective offices into their campaign for county offices. In its lawsuit the county is asking a court for declaratory relief and decide whether that limit can be applied.
Colorado – Tina Peters, Trump Loyalist and Former Clerk, Is Sentenced in Obstruction Case
DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Tina Peters, who was barred from overseeing elections in a Colorado county after her indictment on charges relating to tampering with voting equipment, was sentenced to home detention after she was convicted in a separate obstruction case. Peters, the former clerk in Mesa County, was given four months of house arrest and 120 hours of community service. A jury convicted her of stonewalling investigators from the district attorney’s office when they tried to seize an iPad from her that she had used to record a court proceeding.
District of Columbia – D.C. Housing Director’s $41,250 Bonus at Issue in Council Hearing
MSN – Steve Thompson (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) Director Brenda Donald recently received a $41,250 bonus on top of the $275,000 she makes annually to lead the embattled authority. She was questioned about the bonus by city council member Donald White. He also raised concerns that the DCHA is not sufficiently transparent about its affairs. At the routine oversight hearing, Donald told White that who approved the bonus and by what rationale was not his business as chair of the Housing Committee.
Hawaii – Ex-Hawaii Lawmaker Gets 2 Years in Prison for Taking Bribes
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 4/6/2023
Former state Rep. Ty Cullen was sentenced to two years in prison for taking cash bribes of more than $25,000 as well as payments in the form of poker chips totaling $22,000 between 2015 and 2021 as part of a scheme to influence legislation involving wastewater and cesspools. He was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine on top of a $23,000 forfeiture. Cullen assisted federal prosecutors as part of an ongoing investigation into public corruption in Hawaii.
Hawaii – Campaign Cash Flowed to Hawaii Senators Just Before an Energy Bill Vote. Reform Measures Won’t Stop It
Honolulu Civil Beat – Stewart Yerton | Published: 4/10/2023
Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit registered lobbyists from donating to lawmakers during the legislative session. Individuals and entities who are not registered lobbyists, like the energy company executives, would still be allowed to donate during a session. A bill that would have prohibited all contributions was defeated. The bill is headed to a conference committee, where lawmakers will try to work out differences in House and Senate versions.
Illinois – Chicago Will Host 2024 Democratic Convention as Party Returns to Midwest
MSN – Katie Glueck and Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Chicago will host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, elevating a large liberal city in the heart of the Midwest, a critical battleground region. In the final deliberations, Chicago beat out New York – another progressive city whose advocates had boasted of its infrastructure and fundraising resources – as well as Atlanta, in a presidential battleground state. Republicans plan to hold their national convention in Milwaukee, underscoring the fierce competition for the Midwest on the cusp of another presidential election.
Illinois – Federal Judge Sentences Longtime Political Operative to Probation in Corruption Probe
Yahoo News – Madeline Buckly and Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/12/2023
A federal judge lamented the pervasiveness of public corruption in Illinois as she ordered a one-year probation sentence for a longtime Chicago fire inspector and precinct captain who admitted to lying to the FBI in connection with a bribery probe into former state Sen. Martin Sandoval. Rudy Acosta pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI in a series of interviews about its investigation into Sandoval and other elected officials. The judge stressed the importance of sending a message to those in positions of power to deter official misconduct but took into account Acosta’s health issues and his “extensive” cooperation in FBI probes.
Kansas – Judge Won’t Toss Subpoenas Directed at Kansas Republican Officials Amid Ethics Probe
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 4/11/2023
A judge declined to toss a sweeping series of subpoenas issued to local Republican Party leaders, clearing a potential path for the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to be able to be enforce the documents in court. The probe into the campaign finance activities of prominent legislators and state GOP officials has become increasingly open in recent months, with the ethics panel going to court to enforce the subpoenas and drawing pushback.
Kansas – Wichita Council OKs Airport Marketing Contract, Will Talk More About Conflicts of Interest
Yahoo News – Michael Kelly (Wichita Eage) | Published: 4/11/2023
The Wichita City Council approved a media buying contract for Eisenhower National Airport with Copp Media. The contract, approved a week after the council voted it down, includes new language prohibiting Copp from taking on mayoral or city council candidates as clients while doing business with the city. The council also voted to schedule a workshop where staff will present a policy for discussion about the ethics of double-dipping in city campaign work and city contract work.
Maryland – Chaos Erupts in House of Delegates as Tension Grips Final Moments of General Assembly Session
Maryland Matters – William Zorzi | Published: 4/11/2023
The Maryland General Assembly ended the 2023 session with high drama in both chambers as the final minutes in the House of Delegates devolved into a partisan shouting match, and the Senate president interrupted a motion for final adjournment with a last-seconds vote. The House descended into pandemonium in the final minutes amid a debate over a bill that would prohibit police from stopping or searching a person based solely on the odor of marijuana.
Michigan – Feds Unveil Corruption Charges in Mich. Marijuana Probe Involving Rick Johnson
Detroit News – Robert Snell and Craig Mauger | Published: 4/6/2023
Rick Johnson, the former chair of Michigan’s now-defunct Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, pleaded guilty alongside three others as part of a public corruption probe surrounding the state’s system for regulating medical marijuana. Johnson, who also served as House speaker, was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for licenses to launch marijuana facilities, federal prosecutors said. Also pleading guilty were two lobbyists who were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery – Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown.
New Jersey – Advocates See Few Upsides to Recent Pay-to-Play Overhaul
New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 4/10/2023
Good government advocates warn changes to New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” laws under the Elections Transparency Act will enable corruption. Advocates warn the campaign finance bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law will weaken safeguards meant to prevent local and state officials from steering public contracts to donors. The law ends local “pay-to-play” ordinances that are often stricter than state law, permits the executive branch to award contracts through a system that critics have decried as a loophole, and removes donations to political parties from the list of those that invoke the anti-corruption protections.
New Jersey – N.J. Town Approves Legal Weed Business Represented by State Democratic Chair’s Lobbying Firm
Newark Star Ledger – Jelani Gibson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/13/2023
The East Orange City Council approved a cannabis dispensary applicant represented by a lobbying firm belonging to New Jersey Democratic Party Chairperson Leroy Jones Jr. while rejecting a local applicant who had pointed out that connection, a move that drew scorn from residents at a council meeting. Precious Osagie-Erese, co-founder of the local applicant for a dispensary, Roll-Up Life, had been critical of Nimbus Holdings being represented in the municipality’s selection process by Jones’ lobbying firm, 1868 Public Affairs.
New York – Key Campaign Player for NYC Mayor Adams Raised Reelection Funds While Taking Money to Lobby His Office, Sparking Ethics Concerns
MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 4/9/2023
New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ campaign fundraising manager solicited donations for the mayor’s reelection bid last year while simultaneously being paid to lobby his administration on behalf of a Manhattan property owner with business before the city, according to a review of public records. There is no indication the aide, Brianna Suggs, ran afoul of any laws in playing the dual roles.
New York – Manhattan D.A. Sues Congress Members for ‘Brazen’ Attack on Trump Prosecution
MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2023
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and others for what the prosecutor says is a brazen and unconstitutional attack by members of Congress on the prosecution and investigation of former President Trump. The civil complaint in seeks to interrupt an investigation launched by Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Jordan and his committee are trying to obtain confidential investigative materials compiled during the district attorney’s criminal probe.
North Dakota – Bills to Boost Campaign Finance Transparency Hit Dead End in North Dakota Legislature
Fargo Forum – Jeremy Turley | Published: 4/10/2023
A recent rise in nebulous political spending has increased the desire among lawmakers for reforming North Dakota’s campaign finance law, but most measures to expand reporting requirements fell flat this year. A unique feature of thew law means groups designated as multicandidate committees are not required to list the recipients of their expenditures.
Oregon – Oregon Secretary of State’s Office Uses Business Registry to Try to Drum Up Support for Budget Request
Oregon Capital Chronicle – Julia Shumway | Published: 4/10/2023
An email from a state division director asking customers to advocate for the agency’s budget raised eyebrows among business owners and lawmakers. The request comes as legislative budget writers urge agencies to trim their budgets, keeping open positions vacant and spending less amid economic uncertainty. Corporation Division Director Eloisa Miller emailed everyone who has registered a business in Oregon asking them to submit written testimony supporting the request.
Pennsylvania – The Philadelphia Board of Ethics Is Accusing Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown of Illegally Coordinating with a Super PAC
MSN – Chris Brennan, Sean Collins Walsh, and Anna Orsco (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/10/2023
The Philadelphia Board of Ethics accused a super PAC called For a Better Philadelphia and a nonprofit of the same name of coordinating with mayoral candidate Jeff Brown to circumvent the city’s contribution limits. The board asked Common Pleas Court Judge Joshua Roberts to issue an emergency order prohibiting the groups from spending money to influence the May 16 primary election and cancel any planned television advertising or other efforts to support Brown’s campaign. The board is also seeking $162,000 in fines to be paid jointly by the two groups for repeatedly violating the city’s campaign finance laws as part of the alleged scheme.
Pennsylvania – How a Pa. City Manager Allegedly Stole Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars with Virtually No Oversight
Spotlight PA – Min Xian and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 4/10/2023
Herm Suplizio, the manager of DuBois, a small city about two hours from Pittsburgh, was arrested for stealing more than $600,000 from public accounts over which he had signatory control. The scheme was so elaborate, according to officials, that investigators with backgrounds in organized and financial crimes were brought in to untangle what charging documents describe as a web of money moving in and out of accounts, with little oversight or accountability. Residents are wondering if Suplizio is convicted, how could such a large theft in a place so small occur without anyone noticing?
Tennessee – Black Lawmaker Who Was Expelled Reinstated to Tennessee Seat
Associated Press News – Jonathan Mattise, Travis Loller, and Kimberlee Kruesi | Published: 4/11/2023
One of the two Black Democrats who were expelled from the Republican-led Tennessee House was reinstated after Nashville’s governing council voted to send him back to the Legislature. The unanimous vote by the Metropolitan Council took only a few minutes to restore Rep. Justin Jones to office just four days after Republicans stripped him of his seat. The expulsions made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and propelled the ousted lawmakers into the national spotlight.
Tennessee – In Tennessee, Second Expelled Black Democratic Lawmaker Is Reappointed
MSN – Robert Klemko and Karin Brulliard (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
Justin Pearson, one of two Black Democratic lawmakers expelled by Republican representatives for leading a gun-control protest on the Tennessee House floor, was reappointed to the office, returning to his seat after a tumultuous week that deepened partisan rancor in the state and transformed the pair into national political figures. Shelby County commissioners voted unanimously to reinstate Pearson two days after commissioners in Nashville voted unanimously to return the other expelled lawmaker, Justin Jones, to the statehouse.
Tennessee – Tennessee Expulsions Prompt Senate Democrats to Call for DOJ Inquiry
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
U.S. Senate Democrats urged the Department of Justice to investigate the expulsions of two state representatives in Tennessee to determine whether their removal violated the Constitution or federal civil rights law. Their letter is the first formal effort by federal lawmakers in response to the removals. The Republican-dominated Tennessee House expelled Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson both Democrats, after they led protesters in chants for gun control from the floor of the chamber.
Tennessee – Judges Block Tennessee Move to Cut Nashville Council in Half
Yahoo News – Jonathan Mattise (Associated Press) | Published: 4/10/2023
The Democratic-leaning city of Nashville’s Metropolitan Council will get to keep all 40 of its seats for now under a temporary decision issued by three state judges. The ruling stymies an effort by state Republican lawmakers to cut the council in half after it blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention from coming to the Music City. Nashville has operated under a combined city-county government system with 40 council members since 1963, when leaders were wrestling with consolidating the city and surrounding county as advocates worked to ensure Black leaders maintained strong representation.
Texas – Texas Senate Approves Ban on Local Governments Using Public Funds on Lobbyists
MSN – Hogan Grace (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 4/12/2023
The Texas Senate approved legislation that would restrict how local governments could fund lobbyists to help them influence proposed state laws and policies moving through the Legislature. Senate Bill 175 would ban cities, counties and school districts from spending public funds to hire registered lobbyists tasked with pressing lawmakers for action. The bill also prohibits political subdivisions from using public funds to pay nonprofit state associations or organizations, such as the Texas Municipal League, that contract registered lobbyists.
Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott Announces He Will Push to Pardon Daniel Perry After Murder Conviction
MSN – Tony Plohetski, Claire Osborn, and Ryan Autullo (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 4/10/2023
Less than 24 hours after a jury found Daniel Perry guilty of shooting to death a protester, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would pardon the convicted killer as soon as a request “hits my desk.” The unprecedented effort came as Abbott faced growing calls from national conservative figures to undo the conviction. “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or progressive district attorney,” Abbott said in a statement.
Virginia – Hounded by Baseless Voter Fraud Allegations, an Entire County’s Election Staff Quits in Virginia
MSN – Jane Timm (NBC News) | Published: 4/10/2023
Three weeks ago, Buckingham County Registrar Lindsey Taylor, along with two part-time staffers, quit. Their resignations followed a deputy registrar who left in February. The four departures left residents without a functioning registrar’s office; there was no way to register to vote or certify candidate paperwork, at least temporarily. In January, the GOP assumed control of the Buckingham County Electoral Board that oversees Taylor’s office, and local Republicans began advancing baseless voter fraud claims that baffled her. The electoral board made it clear it wanted her out of the job.
Wisconsin – Two Candidates Tied in a Town Election. They Settled It with a Dice Roll.
MSN – Kyle Melnick (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2023
When Nate Bell received a photo of his Wisconsin village’s election results, he was in disbelief. The photo showed he and the other candidate for the village board’s president, Rob Zoschke, had each received 256 votes. Bell wondered how the tie would be resolved. The Village of Sister Bay’s board settled on a game of chance: a dice roll. A dice representing Bell landed on six; Zoschke’s dice stopped on two. Bell’s number was larger, so he was selected as the village’s new president.
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