August 18, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 18, 2023
Buffalo News – Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Swan, and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 8/16/2023
After eight years of pushing back at a number of institutions in the U.S., Donald Trump is now probing the limits of what the criminal justice system will tolerate and the lines that District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan sought to lay out about what he can say about the election interference case she is overseeing. He has waged a similarly defiant campaign against others involved in criminal cases against him. Some lawyers have said if Trump were an ordinary citizen issuing these attacks, he would be in jail by now. The question is whether Trump will face consequences for this kind of behavior ahead of a trial.
Business Insider – Peter Syme | Published: 8/15/2023
New evidence that prosecutors want to use against Sam Bankman-Fried details how one high-ranking FTX executive knew his boss’s political donations were designed to gain favorable influence in Washington D.C. The FTX founder gave nearly $40 million to Democrats and PACs during last year’s midterm elections. Although prosecutors have put that number as high as $100 million because they say Bankman-Fried funneled millions of dollars more through FTX executives. Prosecutors say the donations were funded by money taken from FTX customers.
MSN – Ryan Tarinelli (Roll Call) | Published: 8/10/2023
An appellate court panel heard arguments about a lower court ruling that would restrict the Biden administration’s ability to interact with social media companies on content moderation. An injunction, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has paused for now, would block various federal government entities from contacting in any form social media companies to remove content with “protected free speech.” The panel, which reserved its most probing questions for the Justice Department, did not indicate when it might rule.
MSN – Tierny Sneed (CNN) | Published: 8/13/2023
It is undeniable that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s friendships with billionaires willing to foot his bill on their vacations together have given the conservative jurist a lifestyle most Americans could only dream of. But determining whether Thomas violated ethics rules and laws by failing to disclose that hospitality is tricky. The law in question is the Ethics in Government Act, and how it should be applied to the extravagant travel that Thomas and other justices have been treated to has been a subject of debate.
The Hill – Zach Schonfeld and Mychael Schnell | Published: 8/16/2023
Samuel Miele, a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. George Santos, was indicted on allegations he had impersonated a top aide to a member of House leadership while soliciting donations for Santos’s campaign. Miele is charged with four counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. While court documents do not identify the impersonated aide’s name or the lawmaker they work for, a complaint filed with the FEC accused Miele of impersonating Dan Meyer, who previously served as chief of staff to Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The Hill – Rebecca Beitsch | Published: 8/16/2023
Special counsel Jack Smith sought to review former President Trump’s direct messages, draft tweets, and location information as his office battled for information related to his account on X, formerly known as Twitter. Newly unsealed court records offer more detail about what prosecutors were looking for when they subpoenaed records related to the Twitter account in January, a request granted by the court.
Yahoo News – J. David Goodman (New York Times) | Published: 8/12/2023
There is an expanding campaign by conservatives across the country to limit the power of Democratic prosecutors who have promised to reform the criminal justice system, or else to oust the prosecutors altogether. More than two dozen bills have been introduced in 16 states to limit prosecutors’ power, mostly in Republican-controlled states. Several of those bills have become law. Despite attacks on their policies and attempts to blame them for rising crime, progressive prosecutors have continued to win many elections.
Yahoo News – Ali Swenson (Associated Press) | Published: 8/10/2023
The FEC began a process to potentially regulate AI-generated deepfakes in political ads ahead of the 2024 election, a move advocates say would safeguard voters against a particularly insidious form of election disinformation. The FEC’s unanimous procedural vote advances a petition asking it to regulate ads that use artificial intelligence to misrepresent political opponents as saying or doing something they did not, a stark issue that is already being highlighted in the current Republican presidential primary.
Yahoo News – Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 8/11/2023
Donald Trump’s legal problems are not just piling up – his legal bills are, too. New financial reports show the former president’s various political committees and the super PAC backing him have used roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent so far this year on legal-related costs. The total amounts to more than $27 million in legal fees and other investigation-related bills in the first six months of 2023. The new disclosures revealed the remarkable degree to which Trump’s political and legal cash are intermingled, much like his own political and legal fate.
From the States and Municipalities
MSN – Canadian Press | Published: 8/15/2023
The federal government has remained without a conflict-of-interest and ethics watchdog for more than six months, a vacancy that the most recent commissioner says is putting investigations on hold and could allow violations to go unnoticed. Mario Dion retired in February after serving as the last permanent commissioner. Martine Richard took on an interim role in April. But she resigned within weeks because of controversy over the fact she is the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 8/14/2023
Alabama Republicans were ordered by a federal court to redraw their congressional maps to ensure there were two majority-Black districts. They did not. Instead, they are going back to the same federal court after the Supreme Court weighed in, this time to argue their attempts at coming up with a new map are good enough. Plaintiffs argued the new districts plainly do not meet the court’s standards, and Republicans were engaging in political gamesmanship by ignoring the court and drawing lines that would still only present Black voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choosing in one district.
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 8/7/2023
With efforts by one set of foes already rebuffed, Arizona’s top Republican lawmakers are making their own bid to quash a new state law designed to shine a light on “dark money.” In a new court filing, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma contend Proposition 211 infringes on the constitutional right of the Legislature to make laws. They want Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Frank Moskowitz to override what voters approved just last year.
Mission Local – Joe Eskenazi | Published: 8/15/2023
Former San Francisco Planning Commission member Frank Fung admits he contracted with a city entity while serving as a city officer and faces a five-digit fine. Fung, a 20-year city appointee who served on the Planning Commission until June 2022, agreed to a settlement in which he will pay $24,200.
MSN – Michael Slaten and Tony Saavedra (Orange County Register) | Published: 8/10/2023
Investigators in Anaheim found deep levels of coordination between PACs and former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s campaign in 2018, a possible violation of state election laws. Investigators from JL Group said former Core Strategic Group Chief Executive Officer Jeff Flint and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Todd Ament ran many campaign meetings for Sidhu while also coordinating spending through independent expenditures.
California – Oakland Lobbyists Must Pay to Play, Officials Say
Oaklandside – Eli Wolfe | Published: 8/10/2023
Oakland requires lobbyists to register and disclose basic information about who is employing them, how much they are paid, and who in the city they contacted. The Public Ethics Commission agreed to send the city council several recommendations to change to the lobbying law. The commission wants to carve out some exceptions to lobbyist registration fees. They want to grant a fee waiver to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations with less than $750,000 in annual revenue, and a reduction for small businesses with less than $200,000 in annual revenue.
Politico – Jeremy White | Published: 8/14/2023
Industry groups and wealthy activists have figured out how to use California;s direct democracy system in ways that are changing how policy is made, prompting pushback from unions and others. Like never before, the business of lawmaking in Sacramento is intertwined with a ballot initiative industry that churns through hundreds of millions of dollars each cycle, and policy battles loop from the Legislature to the streets back to the Legislature again.
San Francisco Standard – Eddie Sun | Published: 8/15/2023
Bay Area Rapid Transit Board President Janice Li agreed to a $5,275 fine for failing to register as a lobbyist for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. The coalition’s former executive director, Brian Wiedenmeier, was also named in the complaint. Li served as the nonprofit’s advocacy director from 2015 to 2022. The two qualified as “contact lobbyists” under local law because they reached out to city officials about coalition business at least five times a month.
Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada | Published: 8/9/2023
Anaheim leaders give out hundreds of free tickets every year to events at Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, but a new investigation into alleged corruption found the city has failed to stop those tickets from going into the hands of special interests for years. While the city has a policy that requires city leaders to state a reason for giving out tickets, investigators from the JL Group noted there is no penalty for violating that policy, and it is easy to circumvent.
Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 8/16/2023
Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken’s proposed reforms to safeguard against corruption fell apart as her city council colleagues criticized an independent investigation and significantly softened every one of the mayor’s reform recommendations. Independent investigators put together a scathing report that alleges “pay-to-play” conspiracies, misconduct, a misuse of federal COVID dollars, and outsized influence by Disneyland resort interests on City Hall.
Florida – State Appeals Lobbying Decision
Citrus County Chronicle – Jim Saunders (News Service of Florida) | Published: 8/14/2023
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody appealed a federal judge’s ruling that blocked part of a state constitutional amendment imposing new lobbying restrictions. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom issued a permanent injunction against a restriction on state and local officials lobbying other government bodies while in office. Bloom said the restriction violated First Amendment rights. The state separately requested a stay that would lead to the injunction only applying to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rene Garcia while the appeal moves forward.
WFSU – Margie Menzel | Published: 8/15/2023
The Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board agreed to continue discussions on why the number of lobbyists registered with the city has plummeted. Critics say there is a loophole to evade that registration, which would require reporting one’s clients and fees.
Yahoo News – Romy Ellenbogen (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/14/2023
The head of Florida’s ethics commission may have violated one of the commission’s own rules. Glen Gilzean, the chairperson of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was appointed in 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Gilzean in May also took on another role, as the new administrator of the DeSantis-controlled Central Florida Tourism Oversight district, a special district formerly that governs Walt Disney World and two surrounding cities. State law says members appointed to the state ethics commission may not “hold any public employment.”
Yahoo News – Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 8/15/2023
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is using the state’s version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to go after former President Trump, who along with 18 of his allies was indicted on charges of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. One power of RICO is that it often allows a prosecutor to tell a sweeping story, not only laying out a set of criminal acts but identifying a group of people working toward a common goal, as part of an “enterprise,” to engage in patterns of illegal activities.
Yahoo News – Ryan Suppe (Idaho Statesman) | Published: 8/11/2023
A judge ruled Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador had a “notable conflict of interest” when his office began investigating officials with the state Department of Health and Welfare over how it distributed federal child-care grants. The health officials were the attorney general’s clients, and a lawyer under Labrador had advised them the grants in question were legally distributed.
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 8/15/2023
Former Ald. Howard Brookins will not have to pay a $5,000 fine for violating the city’s ethics law by defending clients in criminal cases involving the Chicago Police Department. Brookins sued the Board of Ethics after it unanimously levied the fine against him, saying it had no authority to stop him from serving as a criminal defense attorney in Chicago.
Seattle Times – Steven Lee Myers and Benjamin Mullins (New York Times) | Published: 8/13/2023
A small Kansas police department is facing criticism for raiding a local newspaper’s office and the home of its owner and publisher, seizing computers and cellphones, and, in the publisher’s view, stressing his 98-year-old mother enough to cause her death. The searches appeared to be linked to an investigation into how a document containing information about a local restaurateur found its way to the local newspaper — and whether the restaurant owner’s privacy was violated in the process. The editor of the newspaper said the raids may have had more to do with tensions between the paper and officials in the town of Marion over prior coverage.
Yahoo News – Brian Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 8/10/2023
Tim Sheehy, who is rung for the U.S. Senate in Montana, plans to steer a portion of the revenue from his forthcoming memoir to an industry group that lobbies federal lawmakers, adding to existing conflict-of-interest questions surrounding the wealthy first-time candidate. Candidates for office occasionally release books to help burnish their image and tell their story, and sitting lawmakers sometimes draw hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside income from book deals. But Sheehy’s book release poses unique conflict-of-interest questions, given his apparent plans for the revenue.
MSN – Abby Turner and Andrew Kaczynski (CNN) | Published: 8/12/2023
Sam Brown, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada, created a PAC to “help elect Republicans” but most of its funds were spent paying down debt from his failed previous campaign. The group donated less than seven percent of its funds to the candidates it was set up to support, a move one campaign finance expert likened to using the PAC as a “slush fund.”
This Is Reno – Kristin Hackbarth | Published: 8/15/2023
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners heard the first reading of a new ordinance that would require compensated lobbyists to register with the county. The policy, which some said was overdue, was modeled after Reno’s lobbying policy and is similar to others in Clark County, Las Vegas, and Henderson. It would require anyone who receives anything of value to communicate with county commissioners on behalf of someone else on any issue to register with the county.
New Mexico – New Ethics Complaint Targets Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 8/16/2023
A new ethics complaint accuses New Mexico Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of violating state law by leveraging his power as a legislator for financial gain and to seek sexual favors. Much of the complaint centers on Ivey-Soto’s employment by an organization that serves county clerks throughout New Mexico, an arrangement it says is a conflict-of-interest, given his dual role as a legislator who crafts election laws the clerks must carry out.
Santa Fe New Mexican – Daniel Chacón | Published: 8/10/2023
In a defeat for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who unilaterally stopped the Human Services Department from awarding Medicaid contracts worth billions of dollars to providers who had followed the state’s procurement process and scored the highest bids, the department will move forward with the winning bidders after all. The decision is part of a settlement agreement the state Ethics Commission reached with the governor and the department.
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 8/14/2023
A New York appellate court dismissed a lawsuit filed last year by Gary Levine, a former commissioner for the state’s now-dismantled Joint Commission on Public Ethics, accusing Andrew Cuomo’s attorney, Rita Glavin, of defamation for suggesting he had leaked confidential information to the press about Cuomo’s dealings with the ethics panel. The appellate court found Glavin’s letter constituted a “statement of opinion” when she urged the inspector general’s office to launch an investigation of Lavine.
MSN – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 8/14/2023
The judge in Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush-money criminal case rejected the former president’s demand to step aside, denying defense claims that he is biased against Trump because he has given money to Democrats and his daughter is a party consultant. Judge Juan Manuel Merchan acknowledged he made several small donations to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign, including $15 to Joe Biden, but said he is certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 8/8/2023
Ten Republican and Independent senators who participated in a six-week walkout during the 2023 legislation session spring will not be allowed to run for reelection, Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced. Oregonians overwhelmingly voted last year to create consequences for legislative walkouts via Measure 113. But the decision drew a promise of a court challenge from GOP lawmakers, who have said the measure was so sloppily worded they are technically allowed to serve another term before consequences for a walkout begin.
Willamette Weekly – Nigel Jaquiss | Published: 8/14/2023
Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced that her office will now publish a searchable list of campaign finance violations monthly. Other states have long made such data public, informing voters which candidates posted contributions and expenditures late or incorrectly. The former elections director, Deborah Scroggin, pushed for Oregon to publish such violations throughout 2022, but then-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and her top managers delayed the launch.
Yahoo News – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 8/15/2023
Gov. Kristi Noem issued an executive order that contracts issued by the state include a clause to guard against conflict-of-interest if a state lawmaker is about to enter into a contract that could violate the South Dakota Constitution. According to the state constitution, lawmakers are prohibited from being either directly or indirectly interested in any contract with the state or county during their term in office and one year after.
Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 8/11/2023
Former Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey was sentenced to 21 months in prison for directing a scheme to funnel state campaign funds to his failed 2016 congressional race. His co-defendant in the scheme, Josh Smith, owner of The Standard Club, a Nashville restaurant frequented by Republican lawmakers, netted five years of probation, a $250,000 fine, and 720 hours of public service. Smith reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors last November and was prepared to testify against Kelsey.
MSN – Juan Lozano (Associated Press) | Published: 8/15/2023
A judge called a new law unconstitutional that passed in the Republican-led Texas Legislature and will dictate how elections are run in the state’s most populous county, which is a Democratic stronghold and home to Houston. The law, which would abolish a position that oversees elections in Harris County, was temporarily blocked by state District Court Judge Karin Crump after county officials filed a lawsuit. But the judge’s order was put on hold after the state attorney general’s office filed a notice it will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
MSN – Stacy Parker (Virginian-Pilot) | Published: 8/15/2023
A vacant lot near Naval Air Station Oceana that is owned by a state senator could soon become a temporary laydown area for Dominion Energy’s $10 billion wind farm project. The Virginia Beach Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval. Sen. Bill DeSteph owns more than $250,000 of stock in Dominion Energy and has voted on legislation that affects electric and other utilities.
Yahoo News – Jeremy Peters (New York Times) | Published: 8/15/2023
The county board meeting in Wausau, Wisconsin, on August 12, 2021, got contentious fast. What happened about 12 minutes in, as members of the community squabbled over a resolution intended to promote diversity and inclusion, has become the subject of a bitter legal fight that threatens to bankrupt one of the few remaining sources of local news in the area. First Amendment experts say the case highlights a troubling trend of wealthy and powerful people using defamation law as retribution.
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