News You Can Use Digest - April 26, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

April 26, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 26, 2024


G.O.P. Intensifies Scrutiny of Voting: ‘We’re keeping a close eye on you’

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti, Alexandra Berzon, and Michael Gold (New York Times) | Published: 4/20/2024

Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee plan to dispatch more than 100,000 volunteers and lawyers to monitor and potentially challenge the electoral process in each battleground state. They will focus on every aspect of voting, including mail ballots, voting machines, and post-Election Day recounts. It is rooted in Trump’s false claims that Democrats cheated to win the 2020 election. His allies have helped turn that belief into Republican doctrine despite the overwhelming conclusion that no evidence of widespread fraud exists.

Cannon Denies Dismissal Motions by Trump Co-Defendants in Documents Case

MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon rejected requests from Donald Trump’s two co-defendants to dismiss the charges against them in the classified document case, ruling federal prosecutors had met the legal threshold for the obstruction counts. Trump employees Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira had argued the charges should be dismissed, in part, because the indictment accused them of obstructing government efforts to retrieve classified materials from Trump’s property without providing clear evidence the two men were aware of an ongoing investigation or knew the boxes of documents contained classified materials.

As Meta Flees Politics, Campaigns Rely on New Tricks to Reach Voters

MSN – Naomi Nix, Michael Scherer, and Jeremy Merrill (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2024

After years of pitching its suite of social media apps as the lifeblood of campaigns, Meta is breaking up with politics. The company decreased the visibility of politics-focused posts and accounts on Facebook and Instagram as well as imposed new rules on political advertisers, undercutting the targeting system long used by politicians to reach potential voters. Meta’s shift away from current events is forcing campaigns to upend their digital outreach in a move that could transform the 2024 election.

Trump Campaign Asks for Cut of Candidates’ Fundraising When They Use His Name and Likeness

MSN – Alex Isenstadt (Politico) | Published: 4/18/2024

Donald Trump’s campaign has found a new way to press for badly needed cash. In a letter to Republican digital vendors, the Trump campaign is asking for down-ballot candidates who use his name, image, and likeness in fundraising appeals to give at least five percent of the proceeds to the campaign. The letter was sent the same week Trump’s hush-money trial began in New York. The trial is expected to last at least six weeks and will greatly hinder the former president’s ability to hit the campaign trail.

Unfinished Bills, Tax Law Preparation Push Lobbying Spending Up

MSN – Caitlin Reilly (Roll Call) | Published: 4/23/2024

Discarded deadlines on must-pass legislation drove lobbying activity and revenues, as expenditures by K Street’s biggest spenders ticked up in the first quarter of this year. Preparing for next year, including election outcomes and the expiring 2017 tax cuts, has also kept private sector interest in Congress high and K Street firms busy.

Ted Cruz Could Be Liable for Taxes on Payments from His iHeartMedia Podcast, Experts Say

MSN – Benjamin Wermund (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 4/23/2024

The peculiar payment scheme behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s podcast has raised ethical questions and drawn complaints about election law violations. Now tax experts say the deal involving a radio network that picked up the “Verdict with Ted Cruz” podcast in 2022 and a super PAC supporting his reelection effort could also raise red flags for the IRS.

Corporate Political Donations Poised to Spark Shareholder Lawsuits

MSN – Bill Allison (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/24/2024

Major American companies could face lawsuits from their own shareholders for making political donations, according to a new legal strategy that progressives are advocating to reign in corporate influence on elections. Some of the money used for a corporation’s hefty super PAC donations come from shareholders. That gives those investors standing to sue if they do not approve of how the money is spent, according to the latest Center for American Progress report.

Supreme Court Seems Skeptical of Trump’s Claim of Absolute Immunity but Decision’s Timing Is Unclear

Yahoo News – Mark Sherman (Associated Press) | Published: 4/25/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely to reject Donald Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from prosecution over election interference, but it seemed possible he could still benefit from a lengthy trial delay. Chief Justice John Roberts was among at least five members of the court who did not appear to embrace the claim of absolute immunity that would stop special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution of Trump on charges he conspired to overturn his 2020 election loss. Roberts also was among several justices who suggested the case might have to be sent back to lower courts before any trial could begin.

Appeals Court Upholds Conviction of GOP Operative Who Steered Russian Money to Trump Camp

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 4/19/2024

A federal appeals court upheld the conviction of campaign operative Jesse Benton for steering an illegal Russian contribution to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Benton, who was pardoned by Trump for other campaign finance crimes in the final weeks of Trump’s term, was convicted by a jury in 2022 of six felonies related to the contribution and falsified campaign finance records.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Juneteenth or Jefferson Davis? Ala. State Workers May Have to Choose.

MSN – Rachel Hatzipanagos (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2024

Black lawmakers in Alabama have lobbied for years to have the state recognize the Juneteenth holiday. This year, lawmakers may have reached a compromise. Under House Bill 4, Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, would become a state holiday. But state employees would be able to choose between recognizing Juneteenth or the birthday of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, on June 3.

Arizona – Election-Denying Arizona Republican Ends Reelection Bid After Allegations of Forged Signatures

MSN – Mary Jo Pitzl (Arizona Republic) | Published: 4/20/2024

An Arizona lawmaker with a history of leveling unfounded allegations of fraud against election workers has dropped his reelection bid amid allegations he forged signatures on his nomination petitions and submitted dozens of ineligible signatures. The allegations against state Rep. Austin Smith also triggered a civil referral from the Arizona secretary of state to the attorney general.

Arizona – Meadows, Giuliani and Other Trump Allies Charged in Arizona 2020 Election Probe

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2024

An Arizona grand jury indicted 18 allies of Donald Trump for their efforts to subvert the 2020 election, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuliani. The indictment describes Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes targeted not just local conservatives who carried out the plan in Phoenix, but also the out-of-state middlemen in Trump’s orbit who allegedly helped put it together.

California – Los Angeles City Council Committee Takes Steps on Ethics Reform at City Hall

Los Angeles Daily Breeze – City News Service | Published: 4/18/2024

A Los Angeles City Council committee advanced a series of proposed changes to the city charter intended to bolster the independence of the Ethics Commission and enhance its enforcement powers. The changes include doubling the penalties for violations of the Ethics Code; increasing the size of the five-member Ethics Commission to seven with the additional members appointed by the commission; and tightening conflict-of-interest rules.

California – California Bill Would Ban NDAs for Legislative Negotiations: ‘This should not happen again’

MSN – Nicole Nixon (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 4/22/2024

Nondisclosure agreements would be banned from future discussions or negotiations on legislation in California under a new bill. Nondisclosure agreements (NDA) are legally binding contracts that prevent information-sharing with unauthorized parties. They are typically used to protect proprietary information, financial data, or other sensitive information. The introduction of the bill was prompted by the use of NDAs during negotiations between fast food industry and labor groups over a landmark deal to raise California’s minimum wage for fast food workers.

California – San Diego Rejects Proposal to Limit Corporate, Labor Union Money in City Elections with Public Financing

MSN – David Garrick (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 4/25/2024

An effort to limit corporate and labor union money in San Diego elections had a setback when a key city council committee rejected a November ballot measure proposing a public financing program. The Rules Committee rejected the measure on concerns that it would not apply to the mayor or city attorney, and because advocates propose having the city Ethics Commission oversee the program.

California – San Jose Officials Not Reporting Lobbyists Meetings

San Jose Spotlight – Brandon Pho | Published: 4/22/2024

The San Jose Spotlight has reported on inadequate lobbyist disclosures for years, but a recent review shows the public is still in the dark due to incomplete and delayed documentation on elected officials’ calendars. Council members blame simple oversights, time constraints, and limited staff for outdated calendars. But that violates San Jose’s sunshine policies, giving the public an incomplete and untimely picture of what elected officials are discussing with people paid to influence policymaking.

California – California Rejects Bill to Crackdown on How Utilities Spend Customers’ Money

Yahoo Finance – Adam Beam (Associated Press) | Published: 4/22/2024

California lawmakers rejected a proposal aimed at cracking down on how some of the nation’s largest utilities spend customers’ money. California’s investor-owned utilities cannot use money from customers to pay for things like advertising their brand or lobbying for legislation. Instead, they are supposed to use money from private investors to pay for those things. Consumer groups accuse utilities of using money from customers to fund trade groups that lobby and for television ads disguised as public service announcements.

Georgia – Homeless Georgians Could Face Hurdles to Voting Under New Legislation

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 4/24/2024

A single-sentence provision in an election bill in Georgia could complicate voting for some of the state’s homeless population. The bill, which awaits Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature, would require all election-related mail for those “homeless and without a permanent address” – such as registration cards, sample ballots, and absentee ballots – to be sent to the county registrar office. The full impact of the change is unclear.

Hawaii – The Maui Ethics Board Has So Few Members That It’s Struggling to Even Meet

Honolulu Civil Beat – Brittany Lyte | Published: 4/18/2024

The Maui County Board of Ethics is confronting a dire shortage of resources, hampering its ability to investigate potential wrongdoing by public officials, educate and advise government workers on ethics, and even hold meetings. The nine-person board has four vacancies. As such, the county ethics watchdog is unable to summon a quorum unless all five members are present.

Kentucky – Louisville Mayor’s Office to Change Intern Hiring Practices After Courier Journal Reports

MSN – Josh Wood (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 4/24/2024

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration is changing how it hires interns following reporting last year that Metro Hall interns from powerful families with close ties to Greenberg were hired through a program the mayor’s office said “prioritized” disadvantaged youth. A lawyer representing Greenberg against an ethics complaint has said three of the mayor’s office’s eight SummerWorks interns last summer were “pre-identified” for jobs.

Louisiana – 55 Louisiana Lawmakers Raise Campaign Cash During Special Sessions

Louisiana Illuminator – Julie O’Donoghue | Published: 4/19/2024

Almost 40 percent of state lawmakers this year took advantage of an exception in the ethics law that allows them to raise campaign funds during special sessions of the Louisiana Legislature. State law prohibits legislators from accepting political donations during the annual regular session, except in certain cases when they are running for another office. But they do not face that restriction during special sessions the governor calls.

Maryland – Elections Board Orders Nick Mosby to Return ‘Excessive Contributions’ from BGE and Correct Other Errors

Baltimore Brew – Mark Reutter | Published: 4/24/2024

The Maryland Board of Elections has ordered city council President Nick Mosby to return potential “excessive contributions” from Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) and correct the street addresses of more than two dozen contributors, some of them prominent names in Baltimore’s donor world. The rebuke by the elections board is the latest setback for Mosby, who is running for a second term in the Democratic primary. BG&E disputed the amount cited, saying the utility had contributed only $450 to Mosby in 2024.

Michigan – Trump Is a Co-Conspirator in Michigan’s 2020 False Electors Plot, State Investigator Says

Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 4/24/2024

Former President Trump and some of his top aides were co-conspirators in the plot to submit a certificate falsely claiming he won Michigan’s 2020 election, an investigator for state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office testified, as new details of the effort to prosecute the alleged scheme took shape in two battleground states. Howard Shock, a special agent for Nessel, said Trump; Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s chief of staff; and Rudy Giuliani, who was his personal lawyer, are considered “unindicted co-conspirators” in Michigan’s false elector case.

Michigan – Michigan House Hears Testimony on Campaign Finance, Lobbying Laws after Chatfield Charges

Yahoo News – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 4/18/2024

Michigan lawmakers held a hearing on legislation to overhaul the state’s campaign finance and lobbying laws after a high-profile public corruption probe resulted in charges brought against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield for allegedly using political funds for personal expenses. House Democrats introduced a reform package recently. During a House Ethics Committee meeting on two of the bills, lawmakers heard from public officials and transparency advocates, who said the legislation is a first step that would restore public trust in government.

Minnesota – Attempt to Expedite Ethics Probe of Minnesota State Senator Charged with Burglary Fails on Tie Vote

Yahoo News – Steve Karnowski (Associated Press) | Published: 4/24/2024

A Republican attempt to expedite an ethics investigation of a Democratic state senator who is facing a felony ethics charge failed on a tie vote. Minnesota Sen. Nicole Mitchell was absent as the Senate met for the first time since her arrest at her estranged stepmother’s home. Mitchell’s arrest has complicated the remainder of the 2024 legislative session because Senate Democrats hold just a one-seat majority.

Missouri – ‘Mishandled.’ Top Missouri Republican attempts to discredit ethics investigation

Yahoo News – Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 4/23/2024

Attorneys for Speaker Dean Plocher sent a letter to the chairperson of the Missouri House Ethics Committee attempting to discredit the committee’s investigation into the speaker. The letter raises objections about the committee’s investigation as well as committee Chairperson Hannah Kelly’s decision for the panel to vote on a blistering report on Plocher.

New York – Judge Approves Safeguards for Donald Trump’s $175 Million Civil Business Fraud Appeal Bond

MSN – Bart Jansen (USA Today) | Published: 4/22/2024

Judge Artur Engoron approved a new agreement between Donald Trump’s lawyers and New York Attorney General Letitia James to reinforce the $175 million bond Trump posted to appeal a $454 million judgement in a civil trial for inflating the value of his real estate holdings in statements to lenders. James had asked the judge to void the bond by arguing Knight Specialty Insurance is not authorized to write bonds in New York.

New York – Adams Defense Trust Returns $22K in Improper Donations from Corporation, People with City Business

MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 4/22/2024

New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched a legal defense trust in November to raise money for legal fees and other costs he incurs as part of a federal investigation into allegations that Turkey’s government infused illegal foreign cash into his 2021 campaign. The trust received $22,462 in prohibited donations from a corporate entity and 10 individuals with city government business interests. All 11 donations were returned in compliance with the law, said Vito Pitta, a lawyer for Adams’ trust.

Ohio – FirstEnergy Paid $300k to a Dark Money Org That a Lobbyist Tied to Senate President Matt Huffman

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 4/22/2024

At the height of its sweeping statehouse bribery scheme, FirstEnergy secretly paid $300,000 over five checks to a “dark money” nonprofit its lobbyist explicitly associated with now-Senate President Matt Huffman, new records show. In May 2019, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit FirstEnergy funded and controlled wrote the first of its checks to a fellow “dark money” group called Liberty Ohio, a group FirstEnergy lobbyist Ty Pine referred to in an email as “the Huffman C4.”

Ohio – Area County Among Highest in Open Ethics Probes as Ethics Commission Marks 50th Year

Yahoo News – Avery Kreemer (Dayton Daily News) | Published: 4/19/2024

The Ohio Ethics Commission is tasked with overseeing some 590,000 elected officials, contractors, and decision makers in the state. Over the past 50 years, the commission has been responsible for educating elected officials and government workers about Ohio’s ethics laws. It provides advice on ethically murky situations and investigates violations of the law. “I kind of see our mission as guiding public officials on what the law is, and then protecting the public from people who violate it,” said Paul Nick, executive director of the commission since 2011.

Oklahoma – State Audit Critical of Tourism Director Shelly Zumwalt. AG Calls for Director’s Resignation

MSN – M. Scott Carter and Jordan Gerard (Oklahoman) | Published: 4/23/2024

Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd raised numerous questions about how the state spent millions in federal COVID-19 funds and said new purchasing rules established by the Office of Management and Enterprise Solutions were not in the best interest of Oklahoma. The audit harshly criticized the management of Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and the agency’s then-Executive Director Shelly Zumwalt, questioning how Zumwalt approved $8.5 million in contract payments to a firm where her husband is employed.

Pennsylvania – The Philly Ethics Board Has Changed Its Rules on Super PACs in the Wake of the 2023 Mayor’s Race

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/17/2024

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics revised its campaign finance guidelines to make clear that a prohibition on candidates coordinating with super PACs applies even before the candidates launch their campaigns. That was the key issue in the board’s unsuccessful suit against mayoral candidate Jeff Brown during the 2023 Democratic primary. Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend money in unlimited amounts but are prohibited from working in coordination with candidates’ campaigns, which are subject to limitations on donations.

Pennsylvania – Philly Sheriff Used Money Meant to Hire Deputies for Executive Raises, Tried to Double Her Salary to $285K

MSN – Ryan Briggs and William Bender (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/22/2024

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal appeared before the city council recently, seeking nearly $2 million in new support for an office she has described as “consistently underfunded,” and “severely short in deputies.” But finance records and an internal memo show Bilal diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to hire more uniformed staff, including deputies, to fund hefty raises for her executive staff and other office workers. Bilal also tried to more than double her salary as part of a plan to dole out even larger raises using money meant for new hires.

Pennsylvania – Pa. House Approves Bills on Campaign Finance Reform, Aimed at Adding Transparency

Yahoo News – Eric Scicchitano (CNHI) | Published: 4/17/2024

Separate bills intended to add transparency to campaign finance in Pennsylvania elections advanced out of the state House with bipartisan support. One bill would add an additional reporting period for campaign spending and contributions. The other looks to broaden reporting requirements for all tax-exempt organizations and require reports for any level of contribution. Both bills advance to the Senate.

Rhode Island – RI Lawmakers Move to Ban Political ‘Deepfakes’ Ahead of Elections. What That Means.

MSN – Katherine Gregg (Providence Journal) | Published: 4/22/2024

A bill in Rhode Island would ban what it calls “deceptive and fraudulent synthetic media” in the 90-day run-up to any election. The legislation would not only ban “deepfakes,” it would give a candidate who felt wronged the right to seek an injunction and damages in court. The exception to the ban: if the spot contains a clearly written or spoken disclosure that the image “has been manipulated or generated by artificial intelligence.”

Tennessee – Tennessee Rep. Gino Bulso Faces Ethics Complaint Over Sponsoring of Book Bill

MSN – Melissa Brown (Tennessean) | Published: 4/19/2024

An ethics complaint was filed against Tennessee Rep. Gino Bulso alleging the lawmaker and practicing attorney violated conflict-of-interest rules after he filed legislation that could affect the outcome of a legal case he is currently involved in. Bulso represents a group of parents and the Citizens for Renewing America in a lawsuit against the Williamson County Board of Education. The group sued the board over Tennessee’s library book law, arguing they should be allowed to challenge books on the shelves even if their children do not attend Williamson County schools.

Texas – Court Rejects Texas AG Ken Paxton’s Bid to Dismiss Ethics Complaint Over 2020 Election Challenge

MSN – Philip Jankowski (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 4/19/2024

Ruling against Attorney General Ken Paxton, an appeals court declined to dismiss a State Bar of Texas ethics complaint accusing him of dishonesty when he sought to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeats in four swing states. Paxton argue he could not be sued by the state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline because he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court as part of his official duties.

Texas – Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Vote-by-Mail Restrictions in Texas

MSN – Maureen Groppe (USA Today) | Published: 4/23/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to voting rules in Texas that automatically let senior citizens, but not younger people, vote by mail. Mail-in balloting has become a partisan debate as Democrats champion it as a way to increase turnout and Republicans argue it increases the risk of voter fraud. The challengers argued the unequal treatment of voters is age-based discrimination prohibited by the 26th amendment.

Texas – Texas School Districts Violated a Law Intended to Add Transparency to Local Elections

ProPublica – Lexi Churchill (ProPublica) and Jessica Priest (Texas Tribune) | Published: 4/25/2024

The Texas Legislature mandated that school districts, municipalities, and other jurisdictions post campaign finance reports online rather than stow them away in filing cabinets. But many agencies appear to be violating the law that took effect in September. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune examined 35 school districts that held trustee elections in November and found none had posted all the required disclosures online that show candidates’ fundraising and spending.

Wyoming – It’s Getting More Expensive to Run for Statewide Offices in Wyoming, According to Report

Yahoo Finance – Hannah Shields (Wyoming Tribune Eagle) | Published: 4/17/2024

A report by the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) shows statewide office campaigns are getting more expensive, and stakeholders are calling on policymakers to tighten Wyoming’s campaign finance laws. ESPC policy director Marissa Carpio speculated that political polarization, coupled with inflation and competition, played a role in driving up campaign costs for statewide positions over the last few election cycles. The 2018 gubernatorial race had a record $3 million in both campaign contributions and expenses from two candidates.

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