April 15, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 15, 2022
Before Giving Billions to Jared Kushner, Saudi Investment Fund Had Big Doubts
Yahoo News – David Kirkpatrick and Kate Kelly (New York Times) | Published: 4/10/2022
Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal. But the full board of the Public Investment Fund overruled the panel. Ethics experts say such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Kushner’s actions in the White House, or of a bid for future favor if Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024.
Campaign Finance Watchdog Issues Massive Fine for Foreign National’s Trump Super PAC Donation
MSN – Zach Montellaro and Myah Ward (Politico) | Published: 4/8/2022
The FEC issued the third-largest fine in its history for companies of a Canadian billionaire for contributions to a super PAC supporting then-President Trump after the agency found “reason to believe” the donations violated a federal law on foreign nationals contributing to American political committees or campaigns. Companies controlled by Barry Zekelman agreed to pay $975,000 to close an investigation by the FEC into $1.75 million worth of donations made to America First Action, the pro-Trump super PAC, throughout 2018.
Crypto Industry Helps Write, and Pass, Its Own Agenda in State Capitols
Seattle Times – Eric Lipton and David Yaffee-Bellany (New York Times) | Published: 4/10/2022
Across the nation, cryptocurrency executives and lobbyists are helping to draft bills to benefit the fast-growing industry, then pushing lawmakers to adopt these made-to-order laws before moving rapidly to profit from the legislative victories. The effort is part of an emerging national strategy by the industry, in the absence of comprehensive federal regulatory demands, to work state by state to engineer a more friendly legal system. Lobbyists are aiming to clear the way for the continued explosive growth of cryptocurrency companies, which are trying to revolutionize banking, e-commerce, and even art and music.
DNC Sets Off Free-for-All to Remake Presidential Calendar
Yahoo News – Elena Schneider (Politico) | Published: 4/13/2022
The Democratic National Committee is officially reopening its presidential nominating process, upending the current calendar led by Iowa and New Hampshire and requiring them and any other interested states to apply for early-state status in 2024. The influential perch guarantees candidates, attention, and money flow into those states during national campaigns, and gives voters there an outsize say in picking presidents.
DOJ Plans to Investigate Boxes of Records Taken to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago
MSN – Matt Zapotosky and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 4/7/2022
The Justice Department has begun taking steps to investigate former President Trump’s removal of presidential records to Mar-a-Lago, some of which were labeled “top secret.” Sources said the probe remained in the very early stages. The department is facing increasing political pressure to disclose its plans in the case. House Oversight Committee Chairperson Carolyn Maloney has accused the Justice Department of obstructing her committee’s investigation into the 15 boxes of records Trump took to his estate in Palm Beach.
In Conference Call Before Riot, a Plea to ‘Descend on the Capitol’
Yahoo News – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 4/12/2022
One week before an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, a communications expert named Jason Sullivan, a onetime aide to Roger Stone, joined a conference call with a group of then-President Trump’s supporters and made an urgent plea. After assuring his listeners the 2020 election had been stolen, Sullivan told them they had to go to Washington on January 6, 2021, the day that Congress was to meet to finalize the electoral count, and “descend on the Capitol.” The recording of the call emerged as the Justice Department has expanded its criminal probe of the attack.
Inside ‘the Next Big Political Frontier’ of State Supreme Court Races
Yahoo News – Grace Panetta (Business Insider) | Published: 4/9/2022
The 2022 midterm elections have the fewest competitive congressional races in recent memory, thanks in part to both parties drawing themselves safer districts to lock in their majorities in the redistricting cycle. But races to elect state Supreme Court judges, which will play a critical role in drawing political maps and shaping the balance of power, are political battlefields. The conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court has prompted progressive litigators to bring more consequential and politically contentious cases to state courts.
Jan. 6 Panel Has Evidence for Criminal Referral of Trump, but Splits on Sending
Yahoo News – Michael Schmidt and Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 4/10/2022
The leaders of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack have grown divided over whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department of former President Trump, even though they have concluded they have enough evidence to do so, people involved in the discussions said. The debate centers on whether making a referral – a largely symbolic act – would backfire by politically tainting the department’s expanding investigation into the January 6 assault and what led up to it.
Nonprofit Pledges $80 Million for Local Election Administration
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2022
The founder of a nonprofit that has become a target of Republican ire for funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to election administrators in 2020 announced her organization will spearhead a similar new effort starting this year. Tiana Epps-Johnson, who leads the Center for Tech and Civic Life, said the new U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence would send $80 million in the next five years to election departments across the country in need of basic funding for equipment replacement and other resources.
Partisan ‘Doom Loop’? The Answer Is More Parties, This Group Says
MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 4/8/2022
A new advocacy group, Fix Our House, argues the only way to break America out of its political “doom loop where voters in each party see each other as enemies” is to change the way elections work – specifically, elections to the U.S. House. It believes proportional representation is the key to ending gerrymandering, breaking up congressional deadlock, and reducing partisan divisions. The group argues the nation is being driven to political extremes by an electoral system that might have worked before cable news, social media, super PACs, and modern campaigning but now rewards those who promise to burn it all down.
Records of Foreign Gifts Given to Trump and Pence in 2020 Are Missing, State Department Says
MSN – Alia Shoaib (Business Insider) | Published: 4/9/2022
The Trump administration did not provide information about gifts from foreign governments in 2020 received by former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other White House officials, the State Department said. As a result, the department said it could not compile a complete and accurate accounting of gifts received by Trump, his family, and other officials during his final year in office.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Selma Is Tired of Being Just a Symbol – They Want Change
MSN – Emmanuel Fenton (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2022
On March 7, 1965, more than 500 demonstrators marched in Selma, Alabama, to protest policies designed to keep Black people from voting. When they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by state troopers who attacked them with bully clubs. Selma has become an annual stopover for politicians looking to bolster their civil rights bona fides. To mark the anniversary of what became known as Bloody Sunday, the city hosts the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee. But aside from the infusion of tourist dollars and fleeting national media attention, Selma feels like a city left behind, with little to show for its vaulted place in America’s civil rights history.
Alaska – Lawsuit Challenges Alaska Campaign Disclosure Rules
Alaska Public Media – Becky Bohrer (Associated Press) | Published: 4/7/2022
Political donors sued over campaign finance rules enacted under a 2020 voter initiative in Alaska, arguing the disclosure rules are burdensome and could lead to reprisals against them and their business interests in a climate of “cancel culture.” Provisions of the measure calling for open primaries and ranked choice voting in general elections were challenged previously in state courts and upheld.
California – BART May Need to Void $40-Million Contract After Potential Conflict of Interest Found, Inspector General Says
Yahoo News – Alex Wigglesworth (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 4/9/2022
The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency may be required to void a $40-million construction management contract after an investigation revealed a potential conflict-of-interest between a manager who played a role in making and administering the contract and the firm to which it was awarded. Inspector General Harriet Richardson said she began the investigation after receiving evidence the manager used to work for the construction management firm, and the manager’s spouse and sibling still worked for the firm.
California – Corruption Probe Ends in Ex-San Mateo County Community College District Chancellor’s Arrest
MSN – Jason Green (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 4/12/2022
An investigation into allegations of corruption against leaders of the San Mateo County Community College District came to a head with the arrest of a former chancellor on 21 felony counts including tax fraud and theft of public funds. Prosecutors allege Ronald Galatolo, with the help of former Vice Chancellor of Facilities Jose Nunez, directed construction projects to be awarded to companies from whom he had received and continued to receive gifts, including concert tickets and international travel, and with whom he shared financial interests.
California – S.F.’s Environmental Official Resigns Over Alleged $25,000 Donation
San Francisco Examiner – Adam Shanks and Jessica Wolfrom | Published: 4/7/2022
San Francisco’s top environmental official abruptly resigned amid scrutiny about her alleged solicitation of a donation from Recology for her department. Department of the Environment Director Debbie Raphael’s resignation came two days after a news story revealed the gift. It was reported Raphael solicited a $25,000 donation from Recology at the same time the waste management company was inking a city contract to haul trash to its Solano County landfill in 2015.
Florida – Florida Legislators Give DeSantis Their Power to Draw House Map
MSN – Colby Itkowitz and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2022
The Republican-held Florida Legislature will not redraw its congressional map, yielding its redistricting role to Gov. Ron DeSantis to draft a version he will sign. The decision is the latest turn in an unprecedented fissure between the governor and the Legislature. The move followed DeSantis’s call for a special session to draw the House map.
Georgia – Judge Questions Abrams Suit Seeking Unlimited Contributions
Yahoo News – Jeff Amy (Associated Press) | Published: 4/11/2022
A federal judge expressed skepticism that he can give Stacey Abrams the immediate right to begin raising and spending unlimited campaign contributions under Georgia law. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen told a lawyer for Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign she was asking him to rewrite state law to allow Abrams’ One Georgia committee to start taking money before the May 24 primary.
Georgia – With Biden’s Voting Rights Push Stalled, Georgia Activists Regroup
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2022
For months, Georgia voting rights advocates and faith leaders warned a new state law would drastically suppress minority turnout and pleaded with Congress to enshrine protections. But with no signs of progress in President Biden’s push for voting rights bills, those groups are now confronting a new challenge: how to turn out voters despite the restrictions passed by state Republicans in the wake of Biden’s upset win there.
Illinois – Emails Show Valencia Promoted Smart City Development While Her Lobbyist Husband Profited from It
WCIA – Mark Maxwell | Published: 4/7/2022
Over the course of several years, official and personal correspondence shows Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia spent a significant portion of her time in office paving the way for projects that directly benefited her husband, Reyahd Kazmi, who is a registered lobbyist. Kazmi omitted key information from ethics forms and funneled payments between various entities in a manner that hid much of that information from public scrutiny. In one case, Valencia at times used text messages and personal and government email accounts to discuss investment strategies for a development project that involved Kazmi’s clients.
Illinois – Session Recap: Lawmakers pass limits on campaign contributions in judicial races
Capitol News Illinois – Peter Hancock | Published: 4/12/2022
This year’s races for seats on the Illinois Supreme Court, as well as other judicial contests, could come under a new set of campaign finance rules aimed at limiting how much money candidates could raise from so-called dark money sources and from individual donors. The bill still needs approval from Gov. JB Pritzker. It would take effect immediately, meaning it would be in effect for the 2022 election cycle, upon his signature. The bill also makes a change to self-funded campaigns, limiting how much any individual, other than candidates and their immediate family members, may give to a judicial campaign.
Indiana – ‘I Plead Guilty’: Former Indiana GOP Sen. Brent Waltz admits role in straw donor scheme
Yahoo News – Tony Cook (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 4/11/2022
Former Indiana Sen. Brent Waltz admitted in federal court he participated in a scheme to funnel $40,500 in illegal donations to his failed campaign for Congress in 2015. Under an agreement with prosecutors, Waltz pleaded guilty to making and receiving conduit contributions and making false statements to the FBI. The plea agreement comes just one week before Waltz and John Keeler, another former lawmaker turned casino executive, were scheduled to go to trial. Prosecutors say the illegal campaign contributions were fueled with cash from one of Indiana’s largest casino operators, Centaur Gaming.
Maryland – Maryland Appeals Court Upholds State’s Legislative Redistricting Map
MSN – Ovetta Wiggins (Washington Post) | Published: 4/13/2022
Maryland’s highest court upheld the legislative redistricting map approved by the General Assembly in March, rejecting arguments made by Republicans that the map was unfair and gerrymandered. The decision from the Court of Appeals ends a legal challenge that upended the state election calendar and settles uncertainty over when voters will make selections for local, state, and congressional races.
Maryland – Prince George’s School Board Ethics Panel to Resign En Masse
MSN – Nicole Asbury (Washington Post) | Published: 4/13/2022
All members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education’s ethics panel resigned, almost a year after producing reports critical of some board members and causing mass dissension in the county. The panel’s chairperson, Gregory Morton Sr., wrote the en masse resignation was because members faced an “unanticipated, disruptive impact” to their personal and professional lives through the course of their term. The ethics panel authored error-riddled reports that targeted a more liberal majority of the board’s elected members, including accusations of steering contracts, doing political favors, and engaging in a quid pro quo with a labor union.
Michigan – Jury Acquits Two in Michigan Governor Kidnap Plot; Deadlocks on Two Others
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 4/8/2022
A jury acquitted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and deadlocked on the counts against two others, apparently agreeing to some degree with defense claims that FBI agents entrapped the men in a violent plot shortly before the 2020 election. The trial was closely watched as a test of the federal government’s ramped-up efforts to combat domestic terrorism, and the verdict is a partial defeat for the Justice Department. The men’s arrest raised alarms about the possibility of politically motivated violence as the nation was increasingly divided over the presidential race.
Michigan – Legislation Aims to Prohibit Fundraising Loophole Used by Gov. Whitmer
MLive.com – Samuel Robinson | Published: 4/13/2022
A bill that would set legal definitions for what is considered an active recall effort in Michigan was debated before the House Ethics and Elections Committee. House Bill 5910 would require a recall candidate to form a committee within 10 days after becoming a candidate. The account would not need to be established until the recall committee receives a contribution or makes an expenditure. The legislation, which has bipartisan support, comes in response to a fundraising loophole used last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Minnesota – Elephants in the Room? Bill Language Would Ban Private Clubs for Lawmakers, Lobbyists Proposed by GOP Campaign Committee
MinnPost – Peter Callaghan | Published: 4/7/2022
A Minnesota bill would close the door to an exclusive political club that never actually opened. One sentence in the omnibus bill, Senate File 975, would ban contributions to any club set up by a political committee of a candidate or a political caucus of the Legislature that provides access to lawmakers. State law prohibits contributions to lawmakers during legislative sessions. But a mysterious request made to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board suggested a loophole around that ban: charging membership dues to a club that provides access to Capitol decision-makers.
Mississippi – Ethics Complaint Filed After Reporter Barred from House GOP Caucus Meeting
Mississippi Today – Adam Ganucheau | Published: 4/13/2022
The Mississippi Center for Justice filed a formal ethics complaint on behalf of reporter Nick Judin, who was barred entry from a House Republican Caucus meeting in March. Major pieces of legislation authored or supported by Republican leaders, including House Speaker Philip Gunn, are often discussed and debated inside the backroom meetings. Many observers question whether the caucus meetings violate the state’s Open Meetings Act because the caucus consists of well more than half of the entire House body. The caucus meetings had never been challenged before the Ethics Commission or state courts.
New Jersey – With Revelation of Racist Recordings, Prosecutors Face Scrutiny Over Their Handling of Investigation
MSN – Riley Yates and S.P. Sullivan (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/7/2022
At the height of racial justice protests over the murder of George Floyd, Union County prosecutors seized control of Clark Township’s police department, citing “credible allegations of misconduct” by its leadership, and vowing to restore public trust. But in announcing the takeover in July 2020, neither county prosecutors nor the New Jersey attorney general’s office said what they were investigating. Now, criminal justice experts and community advocates are asking why. The question follows revelations that Clark’s mayor, police chief, and an internal affairs sergeant were secretly recorded using racial slurs. The township paid a whistleblower and his attorney $400,000 in a settlement to conceal the allegations.
New York – Buffalo Officers Can Return to Duty After Pushing 75-Year-Old Protester
MSN – Julian Mark (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2022
In June 2020, two Buffalo police officers pushed a 75-year-old human rights demonstrator, causing him to fall backward, hit his head on the sidewalk, and lie motionless while bleeding from his head. Graphic video of the incident circulated widely, and the two officers were suspended from the department. Now, Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski will be allowed to start working again, after an arbitrator concluded the two used “absolutely legitimate” force and did not violate department policies.
New York – Emails Reveal How Major Hochul Campaign Donors Seek Sway
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 4/10/2022
In response to a Freedom of Information Law request, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office provided the Albany Times Union with 161 pages of emails that offer a glimpse of how affluent campaign donors try to leverage that status to land high-level government access. A significant portion of Hochul’s campaign fundraising was facilitated through top lobbying firms, which held fundraisers that were exclusive to their clients. According to the donors’ accounts in the emails, Hochul did not discourage discussion of state business at these events and directed donors to connect with her campaign staff, which subsequently connected them to top state officials.
New York – New State Budget Includes New Ethics Commission
WBFO – Karen DeWitt | Published: 4/11/2022
The new state budget replaces New York’s troubled ethics commission with a new entity aimed at lowering the number of scandals in state government. But critics say the measure does not go far enough and could replicate some of the same problems the current commission created. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics JCOPE) will end in the new budget and be replaced with a new commission on ethics and lobbying in government. JCOPE was dominated by appointees from the governor’s office and had complicated voting rules.
New York – New York Lt. Gov. Benjamin Resigns After Indictment in Campaign Finance Scheme
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon and Chris Bragg | Published: 4/12/2022
New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned after being charged with corruption offenses in an alleged scheme to trade state grants for campaign contributions. The charges stem from Benjamin’s time as a state senator and his unsuccessful run for New York City comptroller. He was seeking donations and public matching funds and enlisted the help of a developer to raise money and disguise its source. In exchange, prosecutors say Benjamin used his authority to try to steer $50,000 to a charitable group the developer controlled. Prosecutors allege Benjamin took steps to cover up his scheme when he was under consideration for lieutenant governor.
North Carolina – Mark Meadows Removed from N.C. Voter Rolls Amid Fraud Investigation
MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2022
Mark Meadows, President Trump’s White House chief of staff, has been removed from the voter rolls in North Carolina as the state investigates allegations that he committed voter fraud in the 2020 election. Meadows helped promote Trump’s baseless claims that widespread voter fraud delivered the presidency to Joe Biden. But the rhetoric about potential voter fraud have clashed with reports in recent weeks that Meadows registered to vote in 2020 using the address of a North Carolina mobile home he never stayed in.
Pennsylvania – Draft Bills and Late-Night Emails Reveal Cozy Ties Between Pa. State Lawmaker, Casino Lobbyists
PennLive.com – Angela Couloumbis (Spotlight PA) | Published: 4/11/2202
A bill introduced by state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson would ban thousands of unregulated gaming machines that have popped up in gas stations, convenience stores, bars, social clubs, and other establishments across Pennsylvania. The legislation was ghostwritten by the gaming industry. At the senator’s request, lobbyists and lawyers for Pennsylvania’s top-earning casino had drafted the bill, and the final text matched that version almost word-for-word. Emails between Tomlinson’s office and Parx Casino’s lobbyists offer a glimpse of the reach that lobbyists enjoy in the Legislature.
South Carolina – SC Developers Give Over the Legal Limit to Horry Candidates Through LLCs. Here’s How
The State – J. Dale Shumaker | Published: 4/13/2022
Developers have made contributions to Horry County Council candidates well over Soth Carolina’s $1,000-per-candidate-per-election-cycle limit. Some of those developers have given to the same candidates multiple times through limited liability companies, using a part of the state ethics law that allows businesses to donate to campaigns as individuals. Ethics experts said that while the practice of donating the maximum-allowed amount multiple times using separate companies is legal and common, it is an “unfortunate” pattern in South Carolina.
South Dakota – South Dakota House Votes to Impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, 36-31
Yahoo News – Joe Sneve (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 4/12/2022
The South Dakota House impeached state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg over his conduct related to a 2020 automobile crash that killed a pedestrian. The vote defies a recommendation by a special investigative committee of lawmakers, who deemed Ravnsborg’s actions did not amount to impeachable offenses and triggers a trial in the Senate that will decide whether he will be forced out of office.
Tennessee – House Speaker Backs Ethics Bill to Bring Expenses ‘From the Dark into the Light’
Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 4/13/2022
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton extolled disclosure requirements in an ethics reform bill and questioned the motives of groups opposed to the legislation, mainly 501(c)4 organizations that can shower “dark money” on campaigns in the final two months of an election. Sexton made a rare appearance in the Local Government Committee where he defended a bill that would require tax-exempt groups that spend money to influence elections to report aggregate expenditures of $5,000 within 60 days of a campaign, among other provisions.
Virginia – Youngkin Vetoes Bipartisan Bills While Stoking Political Rancor
MSN – Laura Vozzella and Gregory Schneider (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2022
Virginia Gov. Genn Youngkin vetoed 25 bills that had bipartisan support in the General Assembly, throwing sharp elbows particularly at lawmakers who represent blue areas of Northern Virginia. He vetoed nine of the 10 bills sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin while signing identical House bills in six of those cases. Typically, a governor signs both versions, allowing both sponsors bragging rights for getting a bill passed into law. The vetoes were widely seen as payback for Senate Democrats’ refusal to confirm a handful of Youngkin appointments.
Wisconsin – Elections Commission Fines Election Denier $2,400 for Frivolous Voter Fraud Allegations
Madison.com – Mitchell Schmidt (Wisconsin State Journal) | Published: 4/7/2022
The Wisconsin Elections Commission fined an election denier who was previously convicted of making fraudulent claims to investors more than $2,400 for filing frivolous complaints of alleged voter fraud. Peter Bernegger, who was convicted in federal court in 2009 for making fraudulent claims to investors in his business, filed multiple claims of voter fraud with the commission earlier this year. He also presented his claims before the Assembly elections committee in February. State election officials later debunked many of what they described as “unverified, fantastical claims” of widespread election fraud, including several made by Bernegger.
Wyoming – Targeted: Lawmakers in the political crosshairs of Wyo Gun Owners
WyoFile – Mike Koshmrl | Published: 4/12/2022
Hundreds of text and phone messages, some threatening violence, were sent to state Sen. Larry Hicks over his bill on gun rights. The deluge was orchestrated by a group that has pushed controversial gun bills at the Legislature. The group, Wyoming Gun Owners, drew outrage from top lawmakers for its campaign tactics and were investigated by the state attorney general for failing to disclose its donors. A federal judge ruled the election law Wyoming Gun Owners was accused of breaking was itself unconstitutional.
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