News You Can Use Digest - April 7, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

April 7, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 7, 2023


Attacks on Dominion Voting Persist Despite High-Profile Lawsuits

DNyuz – Stuart Thompson | Published: 4/6/2023

Claims that election software companies like Dominion Voting Systems sent helped orchestrate widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been widely debunked in the years since former President Trump and his allies first pushed the theories. But far-right Americans on social media and influencers in the news media have continued in recent weeks and months to make unfounded assertions about the company and its electronic voting machines, pressuring government officials to scrap contracts with Dominion, sometimes successfully.

Feds: Fugees rapper Pras Michel ran global influence-peddling scheme for cash

MSN – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 3/30/2023

In opening arguments, federal prosecutors portrayed rap star Pras Michel as a washed-up, money-hungry entertainer who embarked on a brazen secret-influence scheme aimed at the highest levels of the U.S. government. The trial is a chance for the government to recover from a string of high-profile courtroom defeats it has suffered in recent years as it followed through on promises to crack down on foreign-influence efforts.

Nashville Shooting Exploited by Right to Escalate Anti-Trans Rhetoric

MSN – Fenit Nirappil (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023

Conservative commentators and Republican politicians unleashed a new wave of anti-trans rhetoric following the shooting at a Nashville Christian school that killed six people, escalating a broader backlash to the rising visibility of transgender people in public life. The attempts on the right to connect violence to transgender people come even though transgender people are rarely the perpetrators of mass shootings.

Justice Dept. Said to Have More Evidence of Possible Trump Obstruction at Mar-a-Lago

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 4/2/2023

Justice Department investigators have amassed fresh evidence pointing to possible obstruction by former President Trump in the investigation into top-secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, according to people familiar with the matter. The new details highlight the degree to which special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the potential mishandling of hundreds of classified national security papers at Trump’s Florida home and private club has come to focus on the obstruction elements of the case – whether the former president took or directed actions to impede government efforts to collect all the sensitive records.

Dominion’s Historic Defamation Case Against Fox News Will Go to Trial, Judge Rules, in Major Decision Dismantling Key Fox Defenses

MSN – Marshall Cohen (CNN) | Published: 3/31/2023

Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against Fox News will proceed to a jury trial, a judge ruled, in a decision that dismantled several of the network’s key defenses. The network’s highest-ranking executives and most prominent hosts could be called to the stand to testify about the 2020 election lies that were promoted on its programs. One question that jurors will not need to weigh was whether Fox’s claims about Dominion were true or false. “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Superior Court Judge Eric Davis wrote.

Key Senate Dems Want Supreme Court Funding Tied to an Ethics Code for Justices

MSN – Tierny Sneed (CNN) | Published: 4/3/2023

Key Senate Democrats are calling for next year’s funding for the U.S. Supreme Court to be conditioned on the creation of an ethics code for the justices. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who leads the appropriations subcommittee charged with writing the annual funding bill for the judiciary, has expressed support for the idea. Other members of the Democratic caucus are proposing language to be attached to next year’s funding bill that would require the Supreme Court to adopt more transparent processes for recusals and for investigating ethics allegations lodged against the justices.

Twitter Slaps NPR with a Dubious New Tag: ‘State-affiliated media’

MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 4/5/2023

Is NPR “U.S. state-affiliated media”? Twitter and its new owner, Elon Musk, seem to think so. Over NPR’s protests, Twitter placed that label on its account, implying the nonprofit news organization is somehow connected to, if not controlled by, the federal government. The designation puts NPR, which has 8.8 million followers on the site, in the same Twitter category as propaganda outlets like the Russian-government-owned RT and the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper.

Pence Won’t Appeal Ruling That Compels His Grand Jury Testimony on Jan. 6

MSN – Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/5/2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence will not appeal a judge’s ruling that requires him to testify in front of a grand jury exploring the attack on the U.S. Capitol, likely setting up a pivotal moment in the special counsel investigation related to former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Pence’s decision means he will probably testify under oath about Trump’s attempts to pressure him, and he could be a key witness. Trump’s team could still appeal the ruling, but they have lost similar cases previously.

The Price of a Ballot Signature Is Way Up, and Experts Worry It’s Encouraging Fraud

NPR – Ashley Lopez | Published: 4/6/2023

Michigan’s election for governor was upended last year when several Republicans were removed from the primary ballot for problems with their voter signatures. The news highlighted instances of suspected fraud in the process, which experts say could be encouraged by higher rates signature-gathering companies are now charging for their services. As a result, states such as Colorado and California are hoping to crack down on bad actors in the signature-gathering industry.

From the States and Municipalities

Oceania – Government’s Proposed Crackdown on Lobbyists Dismissed as Too Tentative

Radio New Zealand – Staff | Published: 4/4/2023

Following a media investigation into lobbying in New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins commissioned long-term work on regulating the industry, but in the meantime wanted lobbyists to develop their own code of conduct and is removing their swipe card access to Parliament. Hipkins said while there may not be a problem with lobbying in New Zealand, there was the perception of a problem.

Arizona – Legislative Election Committees Catered to Conspiracy Theorists

Arizona Mirror – Caitlin Sievers | Published: 4/5/2023

Republican-controlled committees in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature that were charged with vetting election-reform bills used their time this year to cater to fringe right-wing conspiracy theorists and to approve measures that would make big changes to how elections are run in this state. Both the Senate and House elections committees, chaired by Sen. Wendy Rogers and Rep. Jacqueline Parker, had their last meetings recently. They used their hearings to host presentations by election conspiracy theorists and then to advance legislation that would cater to supposed election problems and alleged fraud at the heart of those conspiracy theories.

Arizona – Legislator Testifies That She Had No Idea Guest Speaker Would Make Bribery Allegations

White Mountain Independent – Bob Christie (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/31/2023

An Arizona lawmaker defending herself against an ethics complaint swore she was not aware ahead of time that an insurance agent planned to present what were later called “unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations” at a legislative hearing. But Rep. Liz Harris’s repeated statements that she did not know what Jacqueline Breger was going to say at a special election hearing appeared to be contradicted by a series of text messages the Ethics Committee released.

California – Planned Construction Could Forever Change the California Capitol’s West Steps. What Would That Mean for Protests and Events?

Capital Public Radio – Nicole Nixon | Published: 4/6/2023

For more than a century, the state Capito’s west steps have been one of the definitive Sacramento and California gathering places. The historic granite steps, which lead to the Capitol’s original entrance and overlook the downtown Mall, have hosted everything from decades of pro- and anti-war demonstrations and the Women’s March to gubernatorial inaugurations. But critics say plans to build an underground visitor’s center on the west side of the Capitol could displace large gatherings for years, or permanently, and forever alter the west steps’ ability to host thousands of people.

California – Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s Mystery ‘Special Advisor’ Raises Legal Concerns, Experts Say

East Bay Times – Grace Hase (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 4/3/2023

Santa Clara resident and small business owner Kirk Vartan has been a special advisor to Mayor Lisa Gillmor for the last three years, but now the city says it was never aware of the appointment and few records between the two exist, sparking concerns about transparency, ethics, and even legal complications. Vartan and Gillmor said the position is volunteer only and he is not paid, and Vartan asserted the city was notified.

California – Mark Ridley-Thomas Found Guilty in Corruption Case

MSN – Matt Hamilton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/30/3023

A longtime Los Angeles politician was convicted on federal corruption charges in a scheme in which prosecutors said he promised to help steer a multimillion-dollar government contract to the University of Southern California (USC) if his son got a scholarship and a teaching job. Mark Ridley-Thomas now faces the possibility of years in federal prison and the permanent loss of his seat on the city council, from which he has been suspended for the last 17 months. The foreperson of the jury said the funneling of a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign committee through USC to a nonprofit led by the politician’s son persuaded jurors to convict.

Colorado – State Increases Campaign Finance Limits

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel – Charles Ashby | Published: 4/6/2023

Voters can give a little more money to state and local candidates under new rules adopted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. In its normal periodic adjustment of campaign contribution limits to account for inflation, donors can give $100 more per election to candidates as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. For contributors to legislative races, the limit goes from $200 to $225 per election, which means a primary race and the general election, among other changes.

Florida – Florida Republicans Poised to Make More Changes to Election Laws

MSN – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 4/3/2023

Florida Senate Republicans released a comprehensive elections bill that includes a provision designed to undercut legal arguments that were made by those who were charged as part of a crackdown on voter fraud. The lengthy bill also changes campaign finance deadlines, speeds up when local officials must scrub voter rolls for dead and ineligible voters, and increases fines on voter registration groups if they break the law.

Florida – DeSantis Wants State Investigation into Disney Power Play

Politico – Andrew Atterbury | Published: 4/3/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, apparently outflanked by Disney in a tug-of-war over the control over the thousands of acres that is home to theme parks, is now ordering an investigation into how the dynamic shift happened. The governor requested a “thorough review and investigation” by state officials into an agreement reached by the outgoing Walt Disney Co. board aiming to stymie Florida’s efforts to grab greater authority over the company’s special land district near Orlando. That deal swung power away from the new leadership board installed by the governor and created just months ago by the Legislature.

Hawaii – Hawaii Governor Signs 7 Government, Ethics Reform Bills

MSN – Audrey McAvoy (Associated Press) | Published: 3/31/2023

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green signed seven good-government bills drafted in response to news last year that two former state lawmakers had accepted bribes in exchange for influencing legislation. One measure, House Bill 137, would require lobbyists to report not only the general subject they are advocating for but the specific bill number or the identification number of the program they discussed with officials.

Illinois – Brandon Johnson Projected to Win Chicago Mayoral Election

MSN – Kim Bellware, Sabrina Rodriguez, and Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023

Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and former public school teacher, won Chicago’s mayoral runoff. He will succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lost her bid for reelection when she came in third in February’s general election. Analysts said Lightfoot bore the brunt of the blame for an increase in crime across the city. Johnson’s win over Paul Vallas, a conservative Democrat, was a major victory for the liberal wing of the party.

Indiana – City Council Creates Committee to Develop Ethics Commission for Muncie Government

Yahoo News – David Penticuff (Muncie Star Press) | Published: 4/4/2023

The Muncie City Council took an initial step toward establishing a ethics commission to provide oversight and guidance for city government. Council members adopted a resolution creating a nine-member ethics advisory committee of people from outside local government to explore the creation of a commission. A proposed ethics code would govern elected officials, appointees to boards and commissions, city employees, and individuals and entities that have a business relationship with Muncie.

Maine – Penobscot County Commissioner Voted to Give Contract to His Business Associate

Bangor Daily News – Sawyer Loftus | Published: 4/5/2023

The chairperson of the Penobscot County Commission voted to hire a lobbyist he personally worked with as recently as last year. Andre Cushing did not recuse himself from a vote in January for the county to enter into a contract with Patriot Consulting, which is owned and operated by Zachary Lingley, a lobbyist and political operative. The ethics policy states county employees should not carry on county business with a firm in which the county employee has an interest.

Maryland – Roy McGrath Shot Dead in Tennessee as FBI Closed in After Three-Week Search

MSN – Alex Mann and Lee Sanderlin (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/4/2023

Roy McGrath was fatally shot as federal agents sought to arrest him in Tennessee, ending a three-week fugitive search for former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s ex-chief of staff. McGrath was supposed to stand trial on fraud charges in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore on March 13. He never showed up. Prosecutors allege McGrath stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state during his tenure at the helm of the government-owned nonprofit Maryland Environmental Service.

Missouri – Judge Rejects Ex-Missouri Lawmaker’s Push to Overturn Revolving-Door Lobbying Ban

Missouri Independent – Rudi Keller | Published: 4/3/2023

Missouri’s ban on lobbying by lawmakers and legislative staff ban does not violate the right to free speech, a federal judge ruled. Former state Rep. Rocky Miller and General Assembly employee John LaVanchy sued to overturn the lobbying ban, which voters approved in 2018 as part of the Clean Missouri amendment to the state constitution. The amendment prohibits current lawmakers and employees of the General Assembly from paid lobbying during their time of service and for two years after they leave office.

Missouri – Missouri Anti-Discrimination Agency Dysfunctional, Lawyers Say, as Chairman Condemned

Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 4/5/2023

When the chairperson of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights spoke against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination law, the remarks provoked outrage among Democrats and LGBTQ advocates. But the comments from Timothy Faber have also turned a spotlight on the commission itself, which lawyers and employment discrimination experts say is a broken agency unable to effectively respond to allegations of discrimination.

Montana – Proposed Constitutional Amendment Would End Montana Supreme Court Elections

Montana Free Press – Arren Kimbel-Sannit | Published: 3/30/2023

The House Judiciary Committee endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would end state Supreme Court elections in Montana, giving the governor power to appoint justices to the bench with Senate confirmation. House Bill 915 is the long-awaited culmination of Republican efforts this year to remake the state court system and its processes. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Mercer, framed the bill as an effort to combat the proliferation of campaign money in state judicial elections.

Nebraska – Goins Resigns Amid Questions About Conflicts of Interest, Improper Use of State Email

Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 4/5/2023

Nebraska’s top economic developer, Tony Goins, announced his resignation amid questions about conflicts-of-interest between his state job and co-ownership of a Lincoln cigar lounge. Goins had served as director of the Department of Economic Development since 2019. Media reports detailed instances when Goins directed business to the Capital Cigar Lounge, in which he has a 51 percent ownership interest.

New Jersey – Murphy Signs Disputed Election Finance Bill That Gives Him More Power Over Watchdog Agency

Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 4/3/2023

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a controversial overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that drastically raises limits on political contributions, curbs investigations of campaign finance violations, loosens the “pay-to-play” law, and gives Murphy more power over the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). All three ELEC members resigned in protest after the General Assembly approved the legislation. Lawmakers pulled the bill from scheduled full chamber votes several times after substantial provisions were added and pushed through the process at the last minute.

New York – Trump Indictment Follows 50 Years of Investigation on Many Fronts

MSN – Marc Fisher (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023

Donald Trump has portrayed himself as the consummate dealmaker and the ultimate escape artist, an entrepreneur turned politician who managed to avoid major consequences despite having been investigated in every decade of his adult life by federal and state agencies, by bankers and casino regulators, by legions of prosecutors and competitors. Now, 50 years after federal officials first accused Trump and his father of violating laws that barred racial discrimination in apartment rentals, the former president has been indicted.

New York – Trump Pleads Not Guilty to 34 Felony Charges

Politico – Erica Orden, Kyle Cheney, and Josh Gerstein | Published: 4/4/2023

A stone-faced Donald Trump made a momentous courtroom appearance when he was confronted with a 34-count felony indictment charging him in a scheme to bury allegations of extramarital affairs that arose during his first White House campaign, becoming the first ex-president to ever face criminal charges. The indictment centers on allegations Trump falsified internal business records his private company while trying to cover up an effort to illegally influence the 2016 election by arranging payments that silenced claims potentially harmful to his candidacy.

North Carolina – N.C. Lawmaker Flips Parties, Handing State GOP a Veto-Proof Majority

MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023

A North Carolina lawmaker elected as a Democrat is defecting to the GOP, handing Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the state Legislature. Rep. Tricia Cotham’s party change gives the GOP increased power over key issues like abortion and elections. She cited her treatment by Democrats as her motivation to switch parties. Cotham said she has been “bullied” for not toeing the party line and accused Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Democratic Party of demanding she follow the lead of top state officials.

Ohio – Dobos Resigns as Vice Chair of Ohio House Higher Ed Committee Over False MIT Grad Claim

MSN – Bill Bush (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 4/5/2023

Ohio Rep. David Dobos resigned as vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee following a report that he falsely claimed to have graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The claim of holding an MIT degree has been repeated by Dobos often dating back some 30 years, in everything from campaigns to casual conversations. Dobos has already come under scrutiny for not disclosing $1.45 million in outstanding debts. State law requires legislative candidates to disclose people or businesses to whom they owe more than $1,000.

Ohio – AEP Doesn’t Have Much to Say About Its Support for Corrupt Utility Bailout

Ohio Capital Journal – Marty Schladen | Published: 4/3/2023

The utility AEP was not at the center of a bribery and money-laundering scandal in 2019. But it also was not very far away as a corrupt deal was hatched in the Ohio Capitol to use $61 million in bribes to pass a $1.3 billion bailout for nuclear power plants. AEP came up repeatedly in the trial that ended in the racketeering convictions of former House Speaker Larry Householder and former state GOP Chairperson Matt Borges. Through its dark-money group, AEP provided more than $900,000 that was used to help pass the bailout. It has received more than $60 million to subsidize aging coal plants that belong to a consortium in which it owns a 40% stake.

Oregon – Portland Auditor Finds Insufficient Evidence ShotSpotter Violated City Code

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Jonathan Levinson | Published: 4/4/2023

An investigation by the city auditor’s office found insufficient evidence that gunshot detection company ShotSpotter violated Portland’s lobbying rules, clearing the way for the city’s pursuit of the technology. After receiving a complaint, the auditor’s office reviewed whether ShotSpotter had passed the time or monetary thresholds in its courting of the city for a contract that would have required it to register as a lobbying entity. Private companies are required to register as lobbying entities if they have spent eight cumulative hours or at least $1,000 during any calendar quarter lobbying.

Pennsylvania – Campaign Finance, Lobbying Reform Still Receiving Little Attention in Pa. Legislature

Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 3/31/2023

During the five hours that legislators questioned Pennsylvania Department of State officials during recent hearings, they inquired about the agency’s work on campaign finance and lobbying just twice. For those who follow the Capitol closely, it came as little surprise. Republican legislative leaders have not substantively discussed improving the state’s campaign finance and lobbying disclosure rules for more than a decade, despite calls by good-government advocates and others for changes.

Tennessee – Tennessee GOP Begins Expulsion Process for 3 Democrats, House Session Devolves into Chaos

MSN – Melissa Brown and Vivian Jones (Tennessean) | Published: 4/4/2023

Tennessee House Republicans introduced resolutions to expel three Democrats for “disorderly behavior” after the trio led protest chants for gun reform on the floor of the chamber in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting. The three House Democrats had approached the podium between bills without being recognized to speak, a breach of chamber rules. With a bullhorn, Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson led protestors in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform. House leadership later likened the trio’s behavior to an “insurrection.”

Texas – Texas Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Library Shelves

MSN – Cheyanne Daniels (The Hill) | Published: 4/3/2023

A federal judge in Texas ruled Llano County officials must return more than a dozen books they had banned and removed from the county’s library shelves during 2021. The preliminary order by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman also prohibited the county from removing any other books as the court case is pending. The library’s catalog is required to be updated to show county residents the removed books are once again available. In his ruling, Pitman said, “Defendants removed the books at issue to prevent access to viewpoints and content to which they objected.”

Texas – Bills Advance to Close Loophole Allowing Some Lawmakers to Increase Their Pay to $140,000

Texas Tribune – James Barragán | Published: 3/29/2023

Lawmakers are moving forward with a measure to do away with a loophole that allows long-serving legislators to increase their annual pay by $140,000 by dipping into their pension while continuing to draw a state salary. Pension payments for state employees grow based on years of service and are typically capped at the state worker’s maximum salary. But state lawmakers, who make an annual salary of $7,200, have retirement benefits tied to the salaries of state District Court judges, who make $140,000, meaning lawmakers who stay in office could have an opportunity to collect retirement payments that far exceed their state salaries.

Virginia – Judge Orders GOP Primary in Va. Senate Race After Party Official Sues

MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023

A judge ordered Virginia to hold a Republican primary in a Suffolk-area state Senate contest, ruling in favor of a Republican official who accused Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chief of staff and Attorney General Jason Miyares of pressuring the state elections chief into canceling it in favor of a convention. Circuit Court Judge Claire Cardwell ordered state Elections Commissioner Susan Beals to once again schedule the June Republican primary that had been announced but then called off.

Wisconsin – Liberals Win Control of Wisconsin Supreme Court Ahead of Abortion Case

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023

Liberals claimed control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, giving them a one-vote majority on a body that in the coming years will likely consider the state’s abortion ban, its gerrymandered legislative districts, and its voting rules for the 2024 presidential election. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz’s victory over former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly will end 15 years of conservative control of the court. Candidates, political parties, and independent groups spent more than $40 million on the race, making it the most expensive judicial contest in U.S. history.

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