News You Can Use Digest - April 28, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

April 28, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 28, 2023


Chief Justice Declines to Testify Before Congress Over Ethics Concerns

DNyuz – Abbie VanSickle (New York Times) | Published: 4/25/2023

Chief Justice John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was declining its invitation to testify about ethics rules for the Supreme Court. In an accompanying statement on ethics practices, all nine justices, under mounting pressure for more stringent reporting requirements at the court, insisted the existing rules around gifts, travel, and other financial disclosures are sufficient.

The Campaign Finance Agency’s Press Shop Can’t Confirm or Deny the Existence of Complaints Anymore

Government Executive – Courtney Bublé | Published: 4/26/2023

The press office for the FEC can no longer confirm or deny the existence of complaints of alleged violations it has received, departing from years of practice and raising concerns about transparency. The vote was requested by Commissioner Allen Dickerson, citing legal advice from the agency’s Office of General Counsel in 2006 that was never followed.

Trump Can’t Stop Pence from Testifying to Jan. 6 Grand Jury, Court Rules

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023

Donald Trump cannot block his former vice president from testifying before a grand jury investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, a federal appeals court ruled. The ruling helps clear the way for Mike Pence to speak under oath about the pressure Trump put him under to declare the 2020 election results invalid. While Trump could seek to further forestall that testimony by appealing to the Supreme Court, other people in the president’s orbit have testified after similar losing battles in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Mike Lindell’s Firm Told to Pay $5 Million in ‘Prove Mike Wrong’ Election-Fraud Challenge

MSN – Chris Dehghanpoor, Emma Brown, and Jon Swaine (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023

MyPillow founder and prominent election denier Mike Lindell claimed he had data showing Chinese interference in American elections and said he would pay $5 million to anyone who could prove the material was not from the previous year’s U.S. election. He called the challenge “Prove Mike Wrong.” A private arbitration panel ruled that someone did. The panel said Robert Zeidman, a computer forensics expert and Trump voter from Nevada, was entitled to the $5 million payout. Zeidman examined Lindell’s data and concluded that not only did it not prove voter fraud, it had no connection to the 2020 election.

Lobbying Firms Start Strong After Record $4-Billion Haul in 2022

MSN – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 4/20/2023

Leading Washington lobbying firms reported huge earnings, revealing business is still booming on K Street despite divided control of Congress. Lobbyists said they are busy influencing federal rules authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act. Corporate clients are also heavily invested in a potential permitting reform bill and the debt ceiling fight, which has the potential to cause major damage to the U.S. economy.

The Conservative Campaign to Rewrite Child Labor Laws

MSN – Jacob Bogage and María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 4/23/2023

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project, have found success among Republicans to roll back certain child labor protections. They are gaining traction at a time the Biden administration is scrambling to enforce existing labor protections for children. The FGA achieved its biggest victory in March, playing a central role in designing a new Arkansas law to eliminate work permits and age verification for workers younger than 16. That law was met with such public outcry that state officials approved a second measure increasing penalties on violators of the child labor codes.

Biden Announces He Is Running for Reelection in 2024

MSN – Tolouse Olorunnipa, Tyler Pager, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/25/2023

President Biden officially announced his bid for reelection, saying in a video that he wants to “finish the job” he started when the country was racked by a deadly pandemic, a reeling economy, and a teetering democracy. Claiming his presidency has pulled the country back from the brink on all those fronts, Biden underlined his ambition to turn what he had once pitched as a transitional presidency into something far more transformational.

Law Firm Head Bought Gorsuch-Owned Property

MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 4/25/2023

For nearly two years beginning in 2015, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch sought a buyer for a 40-acre property he co-owned in Granby, Colorado. Nine days after he was confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, the then-Circuit Court judge got one: the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, one of the nation’s biggest law firms. Gorsuch did not disclose the identity of the purchaser. Since then, Greenberg Traurig has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the court.

No Labels Is Getting on State Ballots, Drawing a Lawsuit and Concerns About a Spoiler

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Ben Giles (KJZZ) | Published: 4/26/2023

The centrist political group No Labels is getting on the ballot in individual states, causing consternation among members of the major political parties about the organization’s endgame. The group says it is not interested in running a presidential campaign. Nonetheless, the nonprofit is committed to raising roughly $70 million to gather signatures and qualify for the ballot in 2024. Ryan Clancy, lead strategist for No Labels, insists it is a one-ticket operation, a presidential “insurance project” for dissatisfied Republicans and Democrats.

On Eve of Trial, Discovery of Carlson Texts Set Off Crisis atop Fox

Seattle Times – Jim Rutenberg, Jeremy Peters, and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 4/26/2023

The day before Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation trial against Fox News was set to begin, the Fox board of directors and top executives made a discovery that helped lead to the breaking point between the network and Tucker Carlson. Private messages sent by Carlson that had been redacted in legal filings showed him making highly offensive and crude remarks that went beyond the inflammatory, often racist comments of his prime-time show and anything disclosed in the lead-up to the trial.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Google Denies It Engaged in ‘Astroturfing’ to Lobby Ottawa Through Third Parties

Globe and Mail – Marie Woolf | Published: 4/20/2023

Google denied accusations it had engaged in “astroturfing” campaigns to lobby against federal bills in Canada by paying individuals and other organizations to oppose them. Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, faced questions from Members of Parliament in a committee hearing about lobbying over Ottawa’s online news bill, which would force Google to pay news publishers for reusing their work.

Arizona – Arizona Lawmakers Want Special Social-Media Treatment of Candidates

Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 4/23/2023

State lawmakers are poised to enact a measure designed to regulate how national and international social media platforms operate in Arizona. Senate Bill 1106 would put into state law that once people become candidates for any public office, they cannot have their posting rights taken away, essentially no matter what they say, truthful or otherwise. Only violations of the federal Communications Decency Act would result in loss of privileges. Social media sites that take down a candidate’s posting could face civil fines of up to $250,000 a day.

Arkansas – Former State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson Sentenced in Corruption Case

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Doug Thompson | Published: 4/25/2023

Former Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, the son of a former U.S. senator and nephew of a soon-to-be announced presidential candidate, received a 50-month prison sentence court for corruption. Hutchinson is one of five former Arkansas lawmakers convicted after a federal Medicaid fraud investigation, along with six health care company executives and lobbyists. The 50 months was added to the 46 months Hutchinson was sentenced to in Arkansas. He now faces a total eight years in prison.

California – SFMTA Commissioner Resigns After Illegal Lobbying

Mission Local – Joe Rivano Barros | Published: 4/25/2023

Gwyneth Borden, who has served on two city commissions over the past 15 years and was most recently the vice chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors, has resigned following her admission that she illegally lobbied city staff and officials. Borden was paid $12,500 as a “consultant” for the Italian eatery Fiorella, which was seeking to legalize a non-compliant outdoor deck. Borden sent 32 emails to city staff, planning commissioners, and one city supervisor seeking support for a permit at the restaurant.

Colorado – Influential Conservative Dark-Money Group Doesn’t Have to Reveal Donors, Face Campaign Finance Sanctions, Denver Judge Rules

Colorado Sun – Jesse Paul | Published: 4/21/2023

A conservative “dark money” political group does not have to reveal its donors and pay a $40,000 fine levied by state elections officials stemming from the $4 million it spent on 2020 ballot initiatives, a Denver District Court judge ruled. Judge David Goldberg found Unite for Colorado, which has since disbanded, did not violate a state law requiring political nonprofits to register as issue committees and reveal their funders when their spending on a ballot initiative is their “major purpose.”

Connecticut – West Haven’s Attorney Suspended After Awarding City Work to His Own Law Firm

CT Mirror – Andrew Brown | Published: 4/25/2023

West Haven’s corporation counsel has over the past three years funneled city work to his own private law firm, enabling him and his wife to represent the city in foreclosure cases and to bill up to $225 per hour for their services. As West Haven’s top attorney, Lee Tiernan has the power to hire outside counsel to assist the city in legal matters. But documents show he used that authority to assign work to his wife, Amanda Tiernan, through a private law practice that bears his name.

District of Columbia – D.C. Settles Suit Brought by 2 Journalists Detained During Trump Inauguration

MSN – Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 4/25/2023

The District of Columbia agreed to pay $175,000 to two journalists to settle a lawsuit that alleged police unlawfully detained the pair while they were covering demonstrations and vandalism in downtown Washington during Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in January 2017. A spokesperson for the journalists said writer Aaron Cantú and photojournalist Alexei Wood would split the settlement. Both were arrested and charged with rioting and other counts; Wood was acquitted at trial and prosecutors later dropped the charges against Cantú.

Florida – Disney Sues Gov. Ron DeSantis, Alleging Political Retaliation

MSN – Aaron Gregg and Lori Rozsa (Washinton Post) | Published: 4/26/2023

Walt Disney Co. is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over what it calls a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” – an escalation of the year-long clash between the company and DeSantis. The lawsuit came the same day the governor’s handpicked board declared a Disney-friendly deal null and void. The standoff began when Disney leaders criticized a controversial education bill advanced by DeSantis and other Republicans. Disney’s resorts are some of the state’s prime attractions, but DeSantis expressed outrage that the company dared criticize the education bill and began attacking the company.

Hawaii – Former Hawaii Charter Schools Head Admits to Ethics Violations

Yahoo News – Esme Infante (Honolulu Star Advertiser) | Published: 4/26/2023

The former executive director of the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission agreed to pay $5,000 in fines and admitted to committing more than a dozen violations of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws during his time at the agency. Sione Thompson signed off on multiple state contracts with three nonprofit organizations without disclosing he also served on the boards of those organizations, said the Hawaii Ethics Commission.

Illinois – Paul Vallas Seeks $700,000 from Campaign Consultant ‘For Services They Did Not Perform’

MSN – A.D. Quig and Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/21/2023

In Paul Vallas’ ultimately losing effort to become Chicago mayor, his campaign paid a political consultant nearly $700,000 to help win over Black voters – work Vallas now claims in a lawsuit was not performed. The suit, filed against Chimaobi Enyia and his business, says Vallas was the victim of fraud, unjust enrichment, and “in the alternative, breach of contract” by Enyia. Vallas claims Enyia used the pressure of the runoff election against Brandon Johnson to squeeze hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Vallas campaign.

Illinois – Prominent Lightfoot Supporter, Business Owner Pays $5,000 Ethics Fine for Lobbying City Hall Without Registering

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 4/24/2023

Businessperson Carmen Rossi was fined $5,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for violating the city’s lobbying law. Rossi lobbied the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department on behalf of Chicago Parking Solutions even though he was not registered to lobby for the company. It won a contract to operate 13 parking lots on Chicago Public Schools property. But it was denied the licenses needed to operate those lots, prompting Rossi to send Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Ken Meyer an email asking him to expedite the licenses.

Michigan – Businessman Pleads Guilty to Bribing Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board Chairman

Detroit News – Craig Mauger and Robert Snell | Published: 4/21/2023

Businessperson John Dalaly pleaded guilty to providing bribes to Rick Johnson, the chair of Michigan’s medical marijuana licensing board, and told a federal judge he hired Johnson’s wife as a consultant at a rate of $4,000 a month. Dalaly faces up to 10 years in federal prison and became the first person to plead guilty in court as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe, examining Michigan’s awarding of licenses to sell and grow medical marijuana.

Michigan – In a Thriving Michigan County, a Community Goes to War with Itself

MSN – Greg Jaffe and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2023

The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to “thwart tyranny” in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people. In this case, the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran. In an era when Americans had never seemed more divided and distrustful, county governments, at their best, helped define what remains of the common good. But Ottawa County was becoming a case study in what happens when one of the building blocks of democracy is consumed by ideological battles over race, religion, and American history.

Missouri – Missouri Lets Local Officials Take Unlimited Gifts from Lobbyists. Senators Move to Ban.

MSN – Kacen Bayless and Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 4/21/2023

The Missouri Senate voted to ban mayors, city council members, county commissioners, and other local government officials, along with employees of local elected officials, from accepting gifts from lobbyists, years after voters approved eliminating gifts for state legislators. The legislation now heads to the House. The bill would close a gap left by the Clean Missouri constitutional amendment, which greatly restricted lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, and a subsequent amendment that eliminated them altogether. Both measures focused on the General Assembly, while leaving local officials free to continue accepting gifts.

Missouri – Missouri AG Withdraws from Gambling Case After Taking Donations from Other Side

St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 4/25/2023

Lawyers working for Attorney General Andrew Bailey withdrew from a lawsuit lodged against the state by a politically connected company that has flooded Missouri with unregulated slot machines. The move follows tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to a PAC supporting Bailey from committees that have received contributions from the plaintiffs in the case. The committees are also tied to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist for the two plaintiffs in the case.

Montana – Montana Republicans Bar Transgender Lawmaker from House Floor

MSN – María Paúl, Timothy Bella, Maham Javaid, and Ben Brasch (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023

The Montana House blocked a transgender lawmaker from the chamber floor for the remainder of the legislative session after an escalating standoff over her remarks on transgender issues. Since Zephyr said those who support banning gender-affirming care for transgender children would have “blood on your hands,” Republican leaders have declined to recognize her on the floor and her microphone has been disabled when lawmakers have debated. In response, Zephyr and her supporters held a rally that resulted in seven arrests and upended proceedings at the Capitol as people jammed inside the chamber and kept chanting, “Let her speak!”

Nebraska – Four Men, Including Omaha City Councilman Vinny Palermo, Federally Indicted

Lincoln Journal-Star – Emily Nitcher, Jessica Wade, and Christopher Burbach (Omaha World-Herald) | Published: 4/21/2023

Four men, including Omaha City Councilperson Vinny Palermo, have been indicted in connection with alleged fraudulent activity involving the Latino Peace Officers Association and Police Athletics for Community Engagement. Court papers allege retired Omaha Police Captain Rich Gonzalez and Johnny Palermo provided personal and financial benefits, “to include airfare, luxury hotel accommodations, travel arrangements, and other items of value” in exchange for official actions taken by Vinny Palermo in his capacity as a city council member.

Nevada – Legal Finding Against Clark County Commissioner Prompts Call to Resign

Las Vegas Sun – Casey Harrison | Published: 4/26/2023

The Nevada Republican Party is calling on Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones to resign after a ruling from a federal judge found he was “not truthful” about text messages removed from his personal cellphone amid a legal battle over a housing development. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Elayna Youchah ruled Jones flouted the county’s record-retention policy as well as Nevada Supreme Court precedent when text messages from his personal phone dated January 3, 2019 – shortly after Jones’ first days as a newly sworn-in commissioner – through April 17 of the same year were deleted.

New Jersey – Was He Corrupt When He Allegedly Accepted a Bag Full of Cash? Or Victim of an Overzealous Prosecutor?

MSN – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/24/2023

The exchange had been caught on surveillance recordings. A Baskin-Robbins bag stuffed with cash was handed over to the mayoral candidate by an informant cooperating with prosecutors. “I just want to be your tax guy,” he said. “Yeah. Done. That’s … easy,” replied the candidate. Was that a bribe under the law, as prosecutors allege? Or as defense attorneys argue, an example of overzealous prosecution that expanded the meaning of a state corruption statute that had never been intended to impose target someone who was just an “ordinary, private citizen?”

New Jersey – Head of NJ ELEC Sues Murphy, Says New Campaign Finance Law Overhaul Is Unconstitutional

Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 4/20/2023

Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) Executive Director Jeff Brindle sued New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy again, challenging the constitutionality of the recently signed Elections Transparency Act, which overhauled ELEC and campaign finance rules in the state. Brindle seeks to block contentious sections of the law that allow Murphy to directly appoint the four members of the agency board without the advice and consent of the Senate within a 90-day period, as well as a provision that slashes the amount of time the commission has to investigate campaign finance violations from 10 years to two years after a violation was committed.

New Mexico – Text Messages Last Year Urged N.M. Voters to Support a Ballot Measure. An Ethics Settlement Unraveled Who Was Behind the Campaign.

Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 4/24/2023

A New York-based advocacy group paid an $11,000 civil penalty and disclosed the donors behind a text-messaging campaign after it was accused of violating New Mexico’s campaign finance law. The payment and disclosure come after the State Ethics Commission filed a lawsuit last year alleging the Working Families Organization tried to conceal its role in text messages urging voters to support a ballot measure to boost education funding.

New York – Cuomo Sues Ethics Commission, Saying It’s Too Independent of the Governor

Albany Times-Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 4/26/2023

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing the possibility of paying millions of dollars to the state, is suing New York’s new ethics commission, and alleging it is so independent from the current governor it is unconstitutional. Cuomo action comes ahead of him scheduled to be the subject of a proceeding before the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government on June 12. He is facing ongoing scrutiny from the ethics agency over his $5 million book deal recounting his administration’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York – Rape Allegation Against Donald Trump Heads to Trial

MSN – Corinne Ramey (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 4/23/2023

A civil trial is set to begin concerning advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s allegations that Donald Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. Trump has denied Carroll’s claims, saying the encounter never happened and she made it up for publicity. The case centers on a complaint she filed when New York state opened a yearlong window in which people who say they were sexually assaulted as adults could sue their alleged abusers, no matter how long ago the conduct occurred.

Ohio – What Can Ohio Regulators Do to Prevent Future Utility Corruption Scandals?

Energy News Network – Kathiann Kowalski | Published: 4/27/2023

Regulators taking proactive steps could reduce the risk of future utility corruption scandals like that which led to the guilty verdicts for former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, say advocates. Yet for now the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is dealing only with specific cases linked to the current scandal surrounding the state’s coal and nuclear bailout law, House Bill 6. Critics say the PUCO should take steps through rule-making or otherwise to provide more transparency and accountability.

Oklahoma – Okla. Official Resigns Amid Accusations of Racism, Talk of Killing Journalists

MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023

Mark Jennings, a county commissioner in Oklahoma, resigned amid growing backlash after a local newspaper reported he and other officials talked about lynching Black people and threatened to assassinate two reporters in a conversation secretly recorded by one of those journalists. Gov. Kevin Stitt had called on Jennings and three other McCurtain County officials to step down, saying he was “appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments.” The other officials are Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning, and county jail administrator Larry Hendrix.

Oregon – Oregon Democrats Weigh Competing Proposals to Cap Political Donations

Portland Oregonian – Grant Stringer | Published: 4/24/2023

New proposals introduced in the state Senate recently would set strict limits to quell the exorbitant spending in Oregon elections without the same loopholes included in other bills introduced by Democrats this session. Sen. Jeff Golden introduced two amendments to Senate Bill 500 mirroring 2024 ballot initiatives by Honest Elections Oregon and the League of Women Voters. Those groups seek stringent limits on campaign donations and transparency in political advertising. Oregon is one of just a handful of states that allows donors to give unlimited sums of money to political campaigns.

Pennsylvania – The Super PAC Backing Jeff Brown’s Mayoral Campaign Has Agreed to Sit on the Sidelines Through the Primary

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/24/2023

A judge approved a limited agreement between the Philadelphia Board of Ethics and For A Better Philadelphia, a super PAC backing Jeff Brown’s campaign for mayor, that will keep the political group on the sidelines through the May 16 primary. The agreement does not affect the broader case the ethics board is pursuing against For A Better Philadelphia, which is an independent expenditure committee that is legally required to operate separately from Brown and his campaign.

Tennessee – Tennessee Lawmaker Resigns After Violating Harassment Policy

MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2023

Tennessee Rep. Scotty Campbell was walking to the Capitol in Nashville when a reporter stopped him to ask about allegations of harassment brought against him by an intern. Campbell said he “had consensual, adult conversations with two adults off property.” Six hours later, the lawmaker, who two weeks ago voted to expel three Democratic colleagues, over decorum violations, submitted a letter of resignation. An ethics subcommittee reported it found Campbell had violated the General Assembly workplace policy on discrimination and harassment after an internal investigation.

Vermont – Full Disclosure: Conflict of interest rule leaves plenty of leeway for legislators’ other jobs – Kristen Fountain | Published: 4/19/2023

While nearly half of the Vermont Senate and roughly a third of the state House are retired, the rest supplement their modest legislative salaries with jobs, ranging from selling real estate to nursing. The Legislature’s rules define a conflict-of-interest so narrowly they almost never prevent lawmakers from crafting and voting on bills even when they or their employers stand to benefit financially.

Virginia – Virginia Politicians Can Spend Campaign Donations on Just About Anything. Here’s Why Reform Efforts Have Failed.

MSN – Katie King (Virginian-Pilot) | Published: 4/23/2023

In Virginia, politicians can legally spend campaign donations on essentially anything, and there is no limit on who can donate or how much they can give. The lax rules make the state an outlier when it comes to laws on campaign spending. Some say stricter laws are not needed because donors should trust the candidates they choose to support. But others argue guardrails are needed to prevent the misuse of funds, especially as more money pours into races. Campaign finance issues have been on Virginia’s radar for decades, with a commission created in 1992 by then-Gov. Douglas Wilder advising the state to overhaul its laws.

Wyoming – Lawmakers to Examine Legislative Ethics, Misconduct Rules

WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 4/25/2023

Wyoming Rep. Karlee Provenza drew national attention, multiple formal complaints, and at least one call for her ouster from committee assignments for a controversial social media post. The high-profile dust-up, and House Speaker Albert Sommers’ decision not to punish the lawmaker for a post some perceived as threatening, have intensified interest in what otherwise promised to be one the Legislature’s more obscure off-season assignments: redrawing the boundaries of acceptable lawmaker conduct and reexamining the process for handling ethics complaints and other grievances.

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