News You Can Use Digest - April 19, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

April 19, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 19, 2024


Ex-Congressman Asks 11th Circuit to Toss Six-Figure Campaign Finance Penalty

Courthouse News Service – Kayla Gogging | Published: 4/16/2024

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera took his fight against a six-figure campaign finance penalty to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the panel to let a jury decide whether he made campaign contributions in another person’s name to undermine a Democratic rival in a Florida election. Rivera’s attorney told a three-judge panel that a federal judge ignored conflicting evidence in siding with the FEC and ordering Rivera to pay a $456,000 fine for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Elections Have Gotten More Accessible for Disabled Voters, but Gaps Remain

DNyuz – Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 4/18/2024

A series of laws – including the Help America Vote Act in 2022, which created new standards for election administration and grant for states to maintain those standards – have sought to make it easier for those facing physical challenges to vote. They have, but major gaps remain. While the gap has shrunk, disabled Americans still vote at much lower rates than those who are not disabled.

Conservative Broadcaster OAN Settles Defamation Claims by Voting-Machine Company Smartmatic

MSN – Erin Mulvaney (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 4/16/2024

One America News Network reached a confidential settlement to resolve a defamation lawsuit by voting-machine company Smartmatic over the conservative outlet’s broadcasting of false election-theft claims in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential contest. Smartmatic sued One America News in 2021, alleging the network provided a platform for false claims that voting machines helped tilt the election outcome for President Biden.

Senate Votes to Dismiss Impeachment Charges Against Mayorkas

MSN – Jaqueline Alemany and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 4/17/2024

The U.S. Senate voted to dismiss two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which allege he mismanaged an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Both votes were along party lines. The impeachment trial ended a little more than three hours after it started, following a Republican senator’s move to quickly quash an offer for limited debate and the creation of an impeachment committee, marking a rapid close to the first impeachment of a sitting Cabinet secretary.

Judge Cannon Skeptical of Trump Co-Defendants’ Arguments to Dismiss Charges

MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon seemed skeptical about dropping charges against Donald Trump’s two co-defendants in the classified documents case and suggested their arguments for dismissal would be better suited as a defense at trial. Attorneys for Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira argued the charges against them should be dismissed, in part, because the indictment accused them of obstructing officials’ efforts to retrieve classified materials from Trump’s property without providing clear evidence the employees were aware of an ongoing investigation or knew the boxes of documents contained classified materials.

Leo Rejects Senate Subpoena from Panel Probing Gifts to Supreme Court Justices

MSN – Tobi Raji (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2024

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a subpoena to conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo as part of a months-long inquiry into undisclosed gifts to Supreme Court justices and he promptly rejected it, calling the move “politically motivated.” The committee authorized subpoenas for Leo and billionaire Harlan Crow following reports that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito accepted and did not disclose free travel and gifts from Crow, Leo, and conservative donor Robin Arkley II.

DNC Uses Political Donations to Pay Biden’s Legal Fees in Special Counsel Probe

MSN – Soo Rin Kim, Isabelle Murray, and Lucien Bruggeman (ABC News) | Published: 4/13/2024

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been paying President Biden’s legal fees incurred in connection with special counsel Robert Hur’s investigation into his handling of classified documents. The DNC said the money they have paid for Biden’s legal purposes is not coming from their grassroots donors. The Democratic Party providing financial support for Biden’s legal challenges comes amid their criticism of the Republican Party’s fundraising for and paying of Donald Trump’s mounting legal bills.

Supreme Court Snubs House Republicans Who Dodged Metal Detectors in Congress After Jan. 6

MSN – Dan Morrison (USA Today) | Published: 4/15/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by three Republican members of Congress who were fined $5,000 each by the House for dodging security scanners installed after the attack on the Capitol. The court’s decision comes months after justices snubbed the case of three other GOP members of Congress who had their pay docked in 2021 for flouting a mask mandate on the House floor during the COVID pandemic.

Corruption or Just Politics? Supreme Court Weighs New Bribery Case as More Clashes Are Brewing

MSN – Jan Wolfe and C. Ryan Barber (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 4/15/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court for years has been making it more challenging for prosecutors to bring corruption cases against public officials, guided by the belief that some of the dealmaking and fundraising in the political realm is unseemly but not illegal. A new batch of cases making their way through the courts shows that where to draw the line remains in flux. The court jumped back into the fray in a case that examines the viability of prosecutions against officials who take gratuities after performing actions that helped their benefactors.

Supreme Court Divided Over Key Charge Against Jan. 6 Rioters and Trump

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided over whether prosecutors improperly stretched federal law to charge hundreds of participants in the attack on the Capitol, a decision that will impact those rioters and, potentially, Donald Trump’s election interference trial in the District of Columbia. The court’s conservatives appeared most skeptical of the government’s decision to charge participants under a law that makes it a crime to obstruct or impede an official proceeding – in this case the joint session of Congress that convened to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Red States Threaten Librarians with Prison – As Blue States Work to Protect Them

MSN – Hannah Natanson and Anumita Kaur (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2024

Legislation advancing nationwide seeks to do things like prohibit book bans or forbid the harassment of school and public librarians, the first such wave in the country, said John Chrastka, director of library advocacy group EveryLibrary. Legislators in 22 mostly blue states have proposed 57 such bills so far this year, and two have become law. But the library-friendly measures are being outpaced by bills in mostly red states that aim to restrict which books libraries can offer and threaten librarians with prison or thousands in fines for handing out “obscene” or “harmful” titles.

Trump Is Funneling Campaign Money into Cash-Strapped Businesses. Experts Say It Looks Bad.

Yahoo Finance – Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield (USA Today) | Published: 4/17/2024

Donald Trump’s main campaign fundraising operation sharply increased spending at the former president’s properties in recent months, funneling money into his businesses at a time when he is facing serious jeopardy and desperately needs cash. Federal law and FEC regulations allow donor funds to be spent at a candidate’s business so long as the campaign pays fair market value, experts say. While the practice is legal, some campaign finance experts believe it raises ethical concerns when a candidate is generating personal revenue off running for office.

From the States and Municipalities

Europe – EU Auditors Say Lobbyists Can Easily Slip Under Bloc’s Radar

Yahoo Finance – Nette Noestlinger (Reuters) | Published: 4/16/2024

Lobbyists can easily bypass European Union (EU) transparency rules to influence policy, auditors said. The European Court of Auditors’ report comes as institutions discuss a new ethics entity to guide the conduct of officials and ahead of a planned review of the EU’s lobbyist register. That review follows a scandal at the heart of the European Parliament in which Qatar and Morocco have been accused of bribing decision-makers.

Canada – Federal Lobbying Commissioner Assessing Allegations Against Firm, Top Conservative Adviser

CBC – Benjamin Lopez Steven | Published: 4/16/2024

The federal lobbying commissioner confirmed that a “preliminary assessment” was opened into allegations against political strategist Jenni Byrne and a lobbying firm. It has been reported that a federal lobbying firm, Forecheck Strategies, is located at the same office as Jenni Byrne + Associates, a provincial lobbying firm. In addition to employing many of the same staff as Jenni Byrne + Associates, Forecheck Strategies is owned by Andrew Kimber and Simon Jefferies, who are also part-owners of Jenni Byrne + Associates. Although Byrne’s exact role with the Conservative Party is murky, she is viewed as one of the most powerful strategists in Canada.

Arkansas – Audit Says Arkansas Governor’s Office Potentially Violated Laws with $19,000 Lectern Purchase

Yahoo News – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 4/15/2024

Auditors found the purchase last year of a $19,000 lectern by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office potentially violated state law. The auditors referred the findings to local prosecutors and the state attorney general, and lawmakers planned to hold a hearing on the report. It cited several potential violations, including paying for the lectern before it was delivered and the handling of records regarding the purchase.

California – L.A. Ethics Panel Approves Fine for Former CBS Exec Leslie Moonves Over Interference with LAPD Investigation

MSN – Richard Winston and Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 4/17/2024

Former CBS President Leslie Moonves will pay $15,000 to settle an ethics complaint over his role in an alleged cover-up of sexual assault accusations against him. The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission unanimously approved the settlement after previously rejecting a proposal for $11,250 in fines as too low. Under the settlement, Moonves also admitted he violated city law by interfering with a police investigation into the sexual assault allegations.

California – Questions Swirled About Millions of Tax Dollars in OC. After Months of Silence, a Key Figure Weighs In

MSN – Nick Gerda (LAist) | Published: 4/17/2024

An Orange County supervisor’s daughter at the center of a controversy over what happened to millions of taxpayer dollars she had a limited role in the nonprofit that handled the money, despite records stating otherwise. Rhiannon Do also said she no longer works for the organization, Viet America Society (VAS). At Supervisor Andrew Do’s direction, VAS has received more than $9 million from the county to feed needy residents, plus $1 million to build a Vietnam War memorial. He also joined votes to fund up to $3.1 million in mental health subcontracts for the group, all without disclosing his close family connection.

Florida – Florida GOP Operative Admits Role in ‘Ghost’ Candidate Scheme That Defeated Utility-Targeted Dem

Floodlight – Mario Alejandro Ariza | Published: 4/12/2024

For the first time, the lead consultant to Florida Senate Republicans admitted to hiring a disgraced ex-senator and approving a dirty trick to recruit a third-party candidate to siphon votes from a South Florida Democrat. The scheme succeeded. In 2020, Jose Javier Rodriguez, the Democrat targeted by the GOP and by Florida Power & Light, lost by 32 votes to Ileana Garcia, the founder of Latinas for Trump. A third-party candidate who did not campaign and who shared the same last name as Rodriguez drew over 6,000 votes.

Georgia – New Prosecutor to Decide Fate of Georgia Lieutenant Governor in Trump Case

MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2024

A state official tasked with finding a special prosecutor to investigate whether Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones should face criminal charges for his alleged role in seeking to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss in the state announced he had appointed himself to the case. Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, was assigned 21 months ago to find someone to oversee the investigation into Jones after a judge disqualified Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case over a fundraiser she hosted for Jones’s political rival.

Hawaii – Retired State Ag Official’s Return to The Agency Has Critics Concerned Over Conflicts of Interest

Honolulu Civil Beat – Thomas Heaton | Published: 4/9/2024

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) is seeking to renew the contract of Hawaii’s acting biosecurity chief, Carol Okada, a controversial figure who many in the conservation community fear is protecting the industry she is supposed to be regulating. Okada, whose title is Acting Plant Industry Division Administrator, is the primary state official overseeing the plant nursery industry, whose products have been found to spread destructive pests throughout Hawaii. Okada retired in 2019 but returned to DOA last year. Her relationship with the nursery industry has fueled concern among lawmakers as well.

Hawaii – Inside the Late-Night Parties Where Hawaii Politicians Raked in Money

Honolulu Civil Beat – Eric Sagara and Irene Casado Sanchez (Big Local News), and Blaze Lovell | Published: 4/17/2024

In response to a series of scandals, Hawaii legislators in 2005 passed a law that barred government contractors from giving money to politicians. It was billed as one of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to end “pay-to-play” in contracting and designed to change the political culture of a state steeped in corruption. But the ban only applies to donations from the actual corporate entities that got contracts, but not to their owners, employees, or any related businesses.

Illinois – Giannoulias Calls for Disclosure of Lobbyist Contracts

NPR Illinois – Peter Hancock (Capitol News Illinois) | Published: 4/11/2024

Legislative lobbyists in Illinois are required to report how much they spend entertaining lawmakers. Currently, though, there is no law requiring lobbyists to disclose how much they are paid by corporations, industry groups, or other special interest organizations. That would change under a bill now pending in the Illinois House. It would, for the first time, require lobbyists to disclose how much they are paid by each of their clients.

Illinois – Chicago Lobbyists Escape Serious Punishment for Improper Donations to Mayor Johnson’s Campaign

WBEZ – Tessa Weinberg | Published: 4/17/2024

The Chicago Board of Ethics dismissed an enforcement action against four City Hall lobbyists who donated to Mayor Brandon Johnson’s campaign. The board said it lacks the authority to enforce a decade-old executive order meant to curb such contributions. An outside law firm found that enforcement language for former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s order is not codified in the law. It was the first time the board has been confronted with trying to enforce the order since it was issued, said Executive Director Steve Berlin.

Illinois – Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin Fined $60K for Violating Ethics Ordinance

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 4/15/2024

The Chicago Board of Ethics fined City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin $60,000 for violating the government ethics ordinance by using city resources to host a prayer service. The board found Conyears-Ervin committed 12 total infractions for violating her fiduciary duty to the city, the unauthorized use of city property, and prohibited political activity. It levied the maximum fine of $5,000 for each individual violation of the ordinance.

Kentucky – Ethics Commission Urges Metro Council to Amend Laws Following Greenberg Complaint

Yahoo News – Eleanor McCrary (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 4/16/2024

In its opinion dismissing the complaint against Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, the Ethics Commission called on Metro Council to specify local guidelines concerning the mayor’s spouse and other volunteers. Media reports said Rachel Greenberg had a Metro Hall office, a government email account, and gave orders to staffers. Ethics experts said the arrangement might violate the city’s ethics rules, which the administration denied.

Maryland – Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott Issues Refunds, Amends Donations After Reporting 9 Over $6K Max

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/14/2024

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott amended several of his state campaign finance reports to correct errors regarding five individual contributors and issued refunds to four other donors after it was reported the campaign accepted donations above the $6,000 maximum limit from nine entities. Scott’s campaign manager said the campaign’s mistakes were likely due to donations submitted via company credit cards.

Michigan – Nessel Accuses Ex-Speaker Chatfield of Stealing Political Funds in Criminal Charges

Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 4/16/2024

State Attorney General Dana Nessel unveiled 13 criminal charges against former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, saying he misused nonprofit dollars to pay off his personal credit card and fund purchases at wineries and luxury retail stores. Chatfield’s wife, Stephanie, was also charged for her role in the alleged scheme. Lee Chatfield got kickbacks from his associates and used $132,000 from his nonprofit organization to pay off his personal Chase credit card, Nessel said. Lee Chatfield’s actions were the product of a “dark money fueled culture” in Michigan’s capital, said Nessel.

Michigan – Democratic Majority in Michigan House Restored with Special Elections

MSN – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 4/17/2024

Democrats in the Michigan House saw their majority restored with a pair of victories in special elections. The Democratic victories could end the legislative gridlock that has defined the tied chamber for the past several months. The pair of seats have sat empty since late November last year after former state Reps. Kevin Coleman and Lori Stone were sworn in as mayors of their respective hometowns.

Mississippi – Lawmakers Update Public Service Commissioner Campaign Finance Law

Magnolia Tribune – Frank Corder | Published: 4/16/2024

Mississippi Public Service Commission members and candidates for the three offices have been required to adhere to strict guidelines regarding direct and indirect gifts and campaign contributions, specifically related to any person acting in any respect for utilities they regulate. But renewable energy lobbyists or company executives were not specifically covered by the campaign finance restrictions. The Legislature passed a bill changing the language to “covered person” to capture all entities or persons that may come before the commission.

Missouri – Speaker Dean Plocher Accused of ‘Absolute Obstruction’ in House Ethics Investigation

Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 4/15/2024

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher obstructed an investigation of his official acts through pressure on potential witnesses and refusing to issue subpoenas, leaders of the chamber’s Ethics Committee alleged. Details of the alleged obstruction were contained in a report laying out findings from the committee’s months-long investigation. The report concluded the committee lacked direct evidence of ethical misconduct in Plocher’s advocacy for a six-figure software contract, in his firing of a former staffer, or in years of filing false expense reimbursement reports.

New Jersey – Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. and His Wife Are Accused of Assaulting Their Teenage Daughter

MSN – Jesse Bunch (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/15/2024

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. and his wife, schools superintendent La’Quetta Small, were charged with assaulting their daughter, including an incident in which the mayor allegedly knocked the teenager unconscious with a broom, prosecutors announced. They are alleged to have physically and emotionally abused the 16-year-old “on multiple occasions” in December and January.

New York – How a Hush Money Scandal Tied to a Porn Star Led to Trump’s First Criminal Trial

Associated Press News – Michael Sisak and Eric Tucker | Published: 4/13/2024

It was the kind of tawdry tale that Donald Trump might have relished before politics: an adult film actress claiming they had sex. But on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Trump feared the story, which he says is false, would cost him votes. So, prosecutors say, he arranged to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet. Now, after years of fits and starts before an indictment last year, Trump is on trial New York on state charges related to the scandal.

New York – Charged With Regulating Conflict of Interests, Ethics Commission Hides Its Own

New York Focus – Chris Bragg | Published: 4/17/2024

The chairperson of New York’s ethics watchdog agency praised its staff for their quick processing of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. The achievement, he said, showed the body’s commitment to “ultimate transparency in how we do our business.” But Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government staff fulfilled a FOIL request about the commissioners’ personal potential conflicts-of-interest and redacted all information about relationships that could force commissioners to recuse themselves from votes.

Ohio – Randazzo’s Death Clouds Path Forward on Criminal, Civil FirstEnergy Bribery Cases

MSN – Jake Zuckerman and Andrew Tobias (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 4/11/2024

The death of a former Ohio regulator has wrenched state and federal criminal cases accusing him of accepting a $4.3 million bribe from a power company before doing its bidding inside the government. Sam Randazzo was found dead in what officials said was a “suspected suicide.” The state also charged two top officials at FirstEnergy for allegedly orchestrating the bribes.

Oklahoma – Will You have to Vote on Your State Lawmaker in November? Most Races Will Already Be Decided

Oklahoma Watch – Keaton Ross | Published: 4/11/2024

For the third consecutive general election cycle, most Oklahoma voters will not elect their state lawmakers in November. Fifty of the 127 Senate and House seats up for re-election were decided on April 5, when just one candidate filed for office. Thirty-five races will be settled in the June 18 primary or August 27 runoff election. Uncompetitive races can cause voters to become apathetic and less interested in the democratic process, research has found.

Pennsylvania – Pa. House Amends Campaign Finance Bills to Cover All Nonprofits and Require More Detailed Reports

Pennsylvania Capital-Star – Peter Hall | Published: 4/15/2024

Lawmakers approved amendments to a pair of Pennsylvania House bills to make campaign finance reporting requirements for state lawmakers more robust and increase the transparency of independent expenditures in elections. House Bill 1472 would require campaign finance reports from civic leagues and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt social welfare organizations that independently advocate for or against candidates. The amendment would make the bill more broadly cover all tax-exempt organizations under Section 501(c) of the federal tax code.

South Dakota – Four South Dakota Tribes Bar Gov. Kristi Noem, Trump V.P. Contender, From Lands

Spokane Spokesman-Review – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 4/13/2024

Four of South Dakota’s federally recognized Native American tribes have barred the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, from their reservations. Three of the tribes barred Noem in April, joining another tribe that had sanctioned the governor after she told state lawmakers in February that Mexican drug cartels had a foothold on their reservations and were committing murders there. Noem further angered the tribes by appearing to suggest the tribes were complicit in the cartels’ presence on their reservations.

Virginia – Unleash America Was Supposed to Be About Supporting Va. Candidates. But the Money Didn’t Go There.

Yahoo News – Elizabeth Beyer (Staunton News Leader) | Published: 4/14/2024

Robert Landrum thought he was supporting Republicans in Virginia’s statehouse elections when he donated $500 to a federal super PAC in April 2023. Unleash America had one stated goal: to get Republicans elected during Virginia’s 2023 contests to support Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s agenda. But according to the FEC and State Board of Election, not a single Republican candidate for state or local office received any direct financial support from Unleash America.

Washington – Lobbying the Legislature from Behind Bars

Oregon Capital Chronicle – Grace Deng (Washington State Standard) | Published: 4/16/2024

The Department of Corrections (DOC) recorded 32 requests from prisoners to testify on bills during this year’s legislative session in Washington, and at least 18 got to testify. Advocates say testimony from prisoners has grown in Olympia since virtual testimony became common during the pandemic. But some prisoners allege the DOC has made it difficult for them to engage with lawmakers. Activists in prison say they feel silenced by what they describe as the agency’s lack of support for – and sometimes even interference with – their political advocacy.

Wisconsin – Business Group Challenges Evers’ Creative Veto That Extended School Aid for 400 Years

Yahoo News – Jessie Opoien (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 4/15/2024

Attorneys with Wisconsin’s largest business lobby asked the state Supreme Court to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ use of his partial veto authority to increase funding for public schools for the next four centuries. Wisconsin gives its governors some of the most sweeping executive powers in the country, although partial veto authority has been scaled back over time.

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