News You Can Use Digest - April 21, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

April 21, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 21, 2023


DEA Chief Faces Probe into ‘Swampy’ Hires, No-Bid Contracts

Associated Press News – Joshua Goodman and Jim Mustian | Published: 4/20/2023

A federal watchdog is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration under Anne Milgram improperly awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to hire her past associates, people familiar with the probe said. Among the spending under scrutiny by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is $4.7 million for “strategic planning and communication” and other contracts that were used to hire people Milgram knew from her days as New Jersey’s attorney general and as a New York University law professor at costs far exceeding pay for government officials.

Clarence Thomas Has for Years Claimed Income from a Defunct Real Estate Firm

MSN – Shawn Boberg and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2023

Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership. But that company has not existed since 2006. That year, the real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, records show. Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company – between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years – and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.

Russians Boasted That Just 1% of Fake Social Profiles Are Caught, Leak Shows

MSN – Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2023

The Russian government has become far more successful at manipulating social media and search engine rankings than previously known, according to documents recently leaked on the chat app Discord. The Russian operators boast they are detected by social networks only about one percent of the time, one document says. A board set up to coordinate U.S. government policy on disinformation was disbanded last year after questions were raised about its purpose and a campaign was aimed at the person who had been selected to lead it.

Washington Used to Abhor Talking About Mental Health. No More.

MSN – Myah Ward (Politico) | Published: 4/17/2023

For six weeks, while U.S. Sen. John Fetterman received treatment for clinical depression at Walter Reed Medical Center, handwritten cards poured into office. His staff fielded phone calls from constituents passing along well wishes. Others called simply to thank him for being upfront about his condition. The reaction has been, overall, a pleasant surprise to Fetterman’s team, which worried about their boss and felt anxious about how the public would respond to revelations he has depression. What they and others have discovered is the country is increasingly open about it. And the politics are changing around it.

Democrats Still Face Feinstein Dilemma as Replacement Bid Fails

MSN – Liz Goodwin, Maeve Reston, and Cleve Wooten Jr. (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023

Democrats’ plan to replace ailing U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee fell apart amid Republican opposition, leaving the party still grappling with a dilemma over stalled judicial nominees that has inflamed some in the Democratic base and complicated the race to succeed her in California. The powerful committee, which is probing allegations of financial conflicts-of-interest against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also lacks the votes to issue subpoenas in her absence.

DeSantis Group Plans Field Program, Showing the Expanding Role of Super PACs

MSN – Michael Scherer, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Ashley Parker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/19/2023

Never Back Down, a technically independent super PAC that unlike federal candidates can accept donations of any value from wealthy individuals and corporations, is organizing and funding efforts to assist Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his yet unannounced campaign for president. The arrangement marks a new frontier in the rapidly shifting campaign finance landscape that governs presidential bids, as outside groups allied with candidates behave more and more like traditional campaigns.

Becerra Violated Hatch Act by Advocating for Senator’s Election, Report Finds

MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023

The Office of Special Counsel determined Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra violated a law that restricts political activities of federal employees when he advocated for the election of U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event. In a letter relaying the finding to President Biden, Special Counsel Henry Kerner said Becerra violated the Hatch Act when he spoke “in his official capacity” at the institute’s annual awards gala in September.

A New Smithsonian Boss Settled Multiple Employee Retaliation Lawsuits

MSN – Manuel Roig-Franzia and Thomas Floyd (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023

When the Smithsonian Institution announced the selection of Nancy Yao to be the founding director of the new American Women’s History Museum planned for the National Mall or alongside the Tidal Basin, the timing seemed apt – it was national Women’s History Month. But in some corners of the museum world, the choice of Yao has evoked uncomfortable echoes of a recent and traumatic period in the history of American women: the national reckoning over sexual harassment brought on by the #MeToo movement.

Fox Was Resigned to a Tough Trial. Then, a Secret Mediator Stepped In.

MSN – Sarah Ellison, Josh Dawsey, and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 4/19/2023

For months, as the pretrial proceedings wore on and the embarrassing internal messages kept spilling into public view, executives at Fox News resigned themselves to a slog of a trial followed by a possible loss before a jury in the $1.6 billion lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems. But at a pre-trial hearing, Judge Eric Davis asked the lawyers for both companies to try to work out their differences. After the jury was seated and before opening arguments could begin, Davis announced, “The parties have resolved the case.”

Billionaire Harlan Crow Bought Property from Clarence Thomas. The Justice Didn’t Disclose the Deal.

ProPublica – Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 4/13/2023

Businessperson Harlan Crow purchased three properties belonging to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, in a transaction worth more than $100,000 that Thomas never reported. The 2014 real estate deal shines a new light on Thomas’s decades old relationship with Crow, a real estate magnate and longtime financier for conservative causes. That relationship and the material benefits received by Thomas have fueled calls for an official ethics investigation. A disclosure law requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000.

If Tennessee’s Legislature Looks Broken, It’s Not Alone

Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 4/13/2023

Nationwide, candidates for roughly four of every 10 state legislative seats run unopposed in general elections. And across the country, one-party control of state Legislatures, compounded by hyper-partisan politics, widespread gerrymandering, an urban-rural divide, and uncompetitive races, has made dysfunction more the rule than the exception. The lack of competition means incumbent lawmakers face few consequences for their conduct. Their legislative actions are driven in large part by the fraction of partisans who determine their fates in primary elections, the only contests where they face serious opposition.

From the States and Municipalities

Europe – EU Parliament Tightens Lobbying Rules for Ex-MEPs

Macau Business – Agence France Presse | Published: 4/17/2023

The European Parliament will prohibit former members from lobbying legislators for six months after leaving office. The reform comes as the Parliament grapples with the fallout from the scandal involving the alleged bribery of members said to have been paid to push the interests of Qatar and Morocco.

Canada – Ontario NDP Set to Try to Tighten Family Gift Rules after Ford Stag and Doe

Global News – Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello | Published: 4/17/2023

The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) will introduce legislation aimed at closing a loophole that allows family members of politicians to receive gifts from people attempting to influence government policy, bringing the province’s conflict-of-interest rules in line with its federal counterparts. NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she was calling for the new rules after it was reported that several developers, considered to be “personal friends,” attended a fundraising event for Premier Doug Ford’s daughter.

Arizona – Fight to Ban State Benefits for Lobby Group Dies – Again

Arizona Capitol Times – Camryn Sanchez | Published: 4/18/2023

State Sen. Steve Kaiser revived a long-running fight at the Legislature to block employees of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns from getting state retirement benefits. The league and a few other non-government groups were not allowed to get State Retirement System benefits until 2004, when the law was changed to accommodate another group, but Kaiser argues that is not an appropriate use of state funds. He also insisted he is not out for revenge although the League opposed some of his bills this session, although the League thinks differently.

Arizona – Effort to Return Ousted Arizona Lawmaker to House Seat

Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 4/18/2023

Local Republican Party officials want former Arizona Rep. Liz Harris restored to the legislative seat from which she was just ousted. But whether that is legally or politically possible remains unclear. As required by law, precinct committee members submitted three names to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to choose a replacement. In addition to Harris, the committee members chose Julie Willoughby, who lost to Harris in last year’s GOP primary by 270 votes, and Steve Steele.

California – SFMTA Commissioner Admits She Illegally Lobbied City Staff

Mission Local – Joe Rivano Barros | Published: 4/18/2023

Gwyneth Borden, the vice chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, and a member of two different city commissions over the course of 15 years, was censured by the city Ethics Commission.  A proposed settlement lays out the case that she spent six months illegally lobbying city staff, planning commissioners, and a city supervisor on behalf of a restaurant that paid her $12,500.

California – Santa Clara Official Indicted on Felony Perjury Charge Related to 49ers Probe

MSN – Ron Kroichick and Lance Williams (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 4/14/2023

A Santa Clara City Council member and former mayoral candidate who received campaign contributions from the San Francisco 49ers was indicted for allegedly lying about leaking information to a team employee. Anthony Becker was indicted for perjury in connection with allegedly leaking a secret civil grand jury report to the 49ers’ chief lobbyist. He also was charged with failing to perform his official duty. That charge alleged Becker breached confidentiality of a grand jury’s watchdog report, which criticized the 49ers’ heavy involvement in local politics.

California – Judge Declares Mistrial in Bribery Case of Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan

Yahoo News – Michael Finnegan (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 4/13/2023

A judge declared a mistrial in the federal bribery prosecution of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan after doctors confirmed his attorney needs months to recover from a recent hospitalization. Chan is the last defendant to face trial in a corruption scandal that exposed pervasive graft in the city’s byzantine process for approving real estate projects in downtown Los Angeles.

Colorado – House Passes Caps for Candidate Contributions in Colorado’s Local Elections

Colorado Springs Gazette – Hannah Metzger (Colorado Politics) | Published: 4/18/2023

The Colorado House approved a bill to establish a statewide limit on contributions made to candidates in local elections, sending the proposal to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 1245 would cap donations from individuals and political parties at $400 and contributions from small-donor committees at $4,000 in municipal elections, among other records and reporting requirements. Proponents said it is intended to decrease the role of money and wealthy individual donors in local elections, while critics said it would put more administrative burden on local governments and violate local control.

Colorado – New Bill Aims to Stop Colorado Utilities from Spending Ratepayer Money on Politics

Energy and Policy Institute – Joe Smyth | Published: 4/20/2023

A new bill in Colorado would stop investor-owned utility companies from using ratepayer money to fund lobbying, trade associations, promotional advertising, and other political influence efforts. The bill and hearings followed months of pressure from ratepayers on utilities, regulators, and policymakers in response to high gas and electricity bills this winter driven by high methane gas prices, and increased public scrutiny of how utilities fund their political influence efforts in Colorado.

Florida – Corruption Trial Begins for Man Who Almost Beat DeSantis

MSN – Brendan Farrington (Associated Press) | Published: 4/18/2023

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum pocketed illegal campaign contributions because he was having a hard time paying for his lifestyle after quitting his job to run for governor in 2018, a prosecutor said as a corruption trial began. Gillum had a large mortgage, was making payments on two expensive cars, and was paying private school tuition for his children when he quit his $120,000-a-year job at People for the American Way to run for the Democratic nomination for governor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan said in opening statements.

Florida – Ex-Venezuelan Treasurer, Husband Sentenced to 15 Years in Miami Bribery Case

Yahoo News – Jay Weaver (Miami Herald) | Published: 4/19/2023

A federal judge sent a former Venezuelan national treasurer and her husband to prison for 15 years after they were convicted of accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for lucrative government contracts and then moving some of their illicit money to Miami in an unprecedented foreign corruption case. In addition to prison time, the judge imposed a financial forfeiture penalty of $136 million for Claudia Díaz Guillen and her husband, Adrian Velásquez, and an additional fine of $75,000 each to be paid to the U.S. government.

Georgia – Former Executive Pleads Guilty to Bribing Atlanta Officials

Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 4/19/2023

A former executive for a longtime city of Atlanta vendor pleaded guilty to paying bribes in exchange for millions of dollars in city contracts and to bribing an official in a neighboring county to get business there. Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari also pleaded guilty to failing to pay more than $1.5 million in taxes. He is the latest in a string of people, including numerous former Atlanta officials, to plead guilty or be convicted by a jury as part of a federal investigation into corruption during former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. Reed himself was never charged with wrongdoing.

Indiana – Donor Privacy or Secrecy? Nonprofit Disclosure Bill Nears Law

Indiana Capital Chronicle – Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | Published: 4/17/2023

State and local governments in Indiana could not require nonprofits to disclose information about their donors under a bill in the state Legislature. House Bill 1212 would block all levels of government from forcing nonprofits to hand over “personal information” – defined as any compilation of data identifying nonprofit members, supporters, volunteers, or donors. It would additionally ban the public release of that information. The bill treads a narrow path between broad protections for donors and nonprofits and a detailed list of exceptions.

Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds Must Comply with Public Records Law, Iowa Supreme Court Rules

MSN – William Morris (Des Moines Register) | Published: 4/14/2023

A lawsuit accusing Gov. Kim Reynolds of failing to follow Iowa’s public records law can continue, the state Supreme Court ruled, saying the governor’s office can be sued just like any other public entity for not producing requested documents in a timely way. The decision came in a suit  by three plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, who accused Reynolds’ office of “stonewalling” public records requests, in some cases for more than a year.

Kansas – Gov. Laura Kelly Signs Compromise Bill to Change Ethics Commission Subpoenas, Procedures

Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 4/14/2023

Gov. Laura Kelly signed a compromise effort to change the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission’s subpoena powers, as well as certain procedures in the agency charged with overseeing campaign finance and ethics matters. The move is a less aggressive version of a bill that received pushback from commission Executive Director Mark Skoglund, who criticized it for potentially allowing behavior under investigation in a major probe into legislative Republicans, county party officials, and interest groups.

Kentucky – Craft Claims Ignorance of Husband’s $1.5M Campaign Donation. Election Agency to Review

MSN – Austin Horn (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 4/19/2023

The biggest source of funding for Commonwealth PAC, a group supporting Kelly Craft’s campaign for governor, is her husband Joe Craft, who gave the group $1.5 million. Kentucky Registry of Election Finance Executive Director John Steffen said it “certainly raises concerns about potential coordination” between Craft’s campaign and the PAC, which would be a violation of state law. When asked if she knew about her husband dropping such a large amount of money into the PAC, Craft said she did not know who funded the group.

Michigan – Vendor Admits Bribing Madison Heights School Leader to Win Millions in Contracts

Yahoo News – Tresa Baldas (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 4/14/2023

Contractor John David pleaded guilty to funneling thousands of dollars in bribes to a Madison Heights school board president who used the money on Florida trips and a boat slip, perks Albert Morrison got for helping his friend secure $3.1 million worth of school contracts. Prosecutors allege David paid $561,000 in bribes to Morrison, though the vendor did not admit to that amount in his plea agreement or in court.

Missouri – Missouri Lawmakers Target Revolving Door at State Lottery

St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 4/19/2023

The former head of the Missouri Lottery left her post last year, but Republican lawmakers are not done battling over her tenure. After stripping funding for advertising from the Lottery in recent years, members of the House Budget Committee heard testimony on a proposal that would bar Lottery officials from working or lobbying for companies that do business with the state agency. The measure is a response to former Director May Scheve Reardon, who left the top job at the Lottery to take a job with a company that sells materials related to the Lottery’s scratch off ticket business.

Montana – Lawmakers Vote Down Proposed Changes to ’24 Senate Election

Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 4/19/2023

A proposal to rewrite the rules for the 2024 election for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s seat went down on a nearly unanimous committee vote after a Republican lawmaker said had been heavily lobbied by voters to oppose it. The legislation would have created an election in which candidates run together in the same primary, and then the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election. the proposal was written to only apply to Montana’s 2024 U.S. Senate race, earning accusations of partisan chicanery by the GOP.

Montana – Lawmakers Move to Slash Timeline for Prosecuting Campaign Finance Violations

Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 4/14/2023

House Bill 947 would cut the time allowed to pursue campaign finance violations in Montana to two years, instead of the current four-year period allowed for those cases to take shape. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Nikolokakos, told a Senate committee the legislation would bring the timeline closer to that of some other types of cases, like property damage. Former Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said that timeline would have prevented him from pursuing a high-profile case against Art Wittich, who was found guilty in 2016 of illegally accepting corporate campaign contributions and illegally coordinating with a political group.

Nebraska – Nebraska Legislature Slow to Adopt Ethics Changes in the Year After Groene’s Resignation

Omaha World Herald – Erin Bamer | Published: 4/17/2023

It has been over a year since former state Sen. Mike Groene resigned amid allegations of workplace misconduct, and the Nebraska Legislature has not adopted many changes aimed at heading off future scandals. Some changes may be on the way, as the state’s Executive Board prepares to vote on a list of recommendations made by an interim ethics committee. But lawmakers are split in their views on whether these suggestions are sufficient. Groene resigned after news broke that he took photos of a former female staff member without her knowledge.

New Mexico – Ethics Allegations Move Forward Against State Treasurer Laura Montoya

Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 4/17/2023

The general counsel for the State Ethics Commission found probable cause to support allegations that Treasurer Laura Montoya violated New Mexico’s campaign finance and financial disclosure laws while running for office. The case will go before a hearing officer. The allegations center on whether Montoya failed to properly disclose the source of $10,000 in contributions and incorrectly filled out paperwork disclosing her personal finances.

New York – N.Y. Budget Chief’s Exit Prompts Inquiry into Covid Contract Deals

DNyuz – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 4/15/2023

The departure of two state officials in New York is now part of an inspector general review. As the deadline drew near for the state’s $220-billion-plus budget, it was announced that Sandra Beattie, the acting budget director who assembled the proposal, was being replaced. Beattie’s exit triggered a state investigation into tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money used for no-bid contract expansions that went to private consultants under pandemic emergency decrees. Upon leaving, Beattie turned in a cellphone that had been wiped clean, making it difficult for investigators to discover if she had used it to hide potentially damaging communications.

North Dakota – Bill for Changes Sought by North Dakota Ethics Panel Goes to Burgum

Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 4/13/2023

Proposed changes to the North Dakota Ethics Commission’s procedures were sent to Gov. Doug Burgum. Senate Bill 2408 includes extending the time frame to notify an accused person of an ethics complaint, and adding criteria for who can make complaints. The ethics panel originally sought to add about 8,960 executive branch employees to its jurisdiction over “public officials,” but a Senate committee cut that proposed expansion from the bill.

Ohio – Former Columbus City Hall Lobbyist to Be Resentenced in Bribery Scheme

MSN – Daniel Griffin (WCMH) | Published: 4/15/2023

A federal appeals court ruled a former Columbus lobbyist must be resentenced. John Raphael faced up to 20 years in prison for accepting bribes, but U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson sentenced him to just one day and then suspended that sentence.

Oklahoma – Okla. Governor Calls on Officials to Resign After ‘Horrid’ Audio Emerges

MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023

County officials dispatched with the agenda and ushered citizens out of a recent public meeting in southeastern Oklahoma, they spoke among themselves without realizing they were being secretly recorded. It was reported some officials hinted at assassinating a journalist who had reported on their alleged misconduct, and a county commissioner lamented about how they could no longer yank Black people out of the jail, “take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a … rope,” according to McCurtain Gazette-News.

Pennsylvania – Voters Are Still Getting Mailers from an Outside Group Boosting Jeff Brown for Mayor Despite a Judge’s Order

MSN – Anna Orso (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/19/2023

The nonprofit that was sued by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics over allegations it illegally coordinated with mayoral candidate Jeff Brown says it can continue circulating literature ahead of the primary election, under certain circumstances. But the Board of Ethics disagrees on what those ads can look like, and the matter will likely need to be settled in court. A judge told leaders of A Better Philadelphia and a PAC that it funds they must, at least temporarily, stop spending money to influence the May 16 primary election. But some residents have received mailed advertisements from the nonprofit recently.

South Carolina – SC GOP Consultant Richard Quinn’s Guilty Plea Brings Closure to Statehouse Probe

Charleston Post and Courier – Caitlin Ashworth | Published: 4/19/2023

Richard Quinn, once considered South Carolina’s most powerful Republican political consultant, pleaded guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges tied to the investigation into corruption at the statehouse. Quinn entered an Alford plea, where he did not admit guilt but agreed a jury would likely convict him. The charges came after Quinn testified before a grand jury as part of an agreement to drop previous charges in the corruption probe that examined conflicts among lawmakers and consultants, along with state agencies and large businesses, that lobby the General Assembly.

Vermont – Full Disclosure: Vermont’s legislative ethics forms are hard to find, out of date and limited in scope – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 4/18/2023

In Vermont, lawmakers and candidates must file reports about their financial interests. But the information, while technically available to the public, is challenging both to unearth and decipher – in some cases coming in the form of barely legible handwritten documents. Some of those are available only by going to the statehouse in Montpelier and knowing who to ask. Of the 48 states that require candidates to file such disclosures, Vermont is the only one that has no statutory mechanisms to enforce its own rules, said Christina Sivret, executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission.

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