August 19, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 19, 2022
FBI Arrests Ex-Congressman on Charges of Fraud and Money Laundering
MSN – Praveena Somasundaram (Washington Post) | Published: 8/16/2022
Former U.S. Rep. TJ Cox was indicted on 28 charges, including 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of campaign contribution fraud. The indictment says Cox schemed to fund and reimburse people close to him for donations to his campaign. Federal laws do not allow “conduit” or “straw” donations, in which someone makes a political contribution through someone else to their own campaign.
Federal Judiciary Can’t Stop Support Staff from Political Activity
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/18/2022
In March 2018, while weighing candidates for governor in Maryland, Lisa Guffey wanted to attend an event featuring Democrat Ben Jealous. She was told she could not. Her employer, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, had two days earlier imposed new rules barring all employees from expressing political views, attending political events, or engaging in political activity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has now deemed those restrictions unconstitutional.
Homeland Security Watchdog Cuffari Faces Rebukes from Lawmakers in Missing Texts Case
MSN – Maria Sacchetti (Washington Post) | Published: 8/16/2022
The Department of Homeland Security’s chief watchdog rejected calls from leading Democratic legislators to recuse himself from the investigation into the erasure of text messages that Secret Service agents exchanged during the attack on the Capitol, drawing fresh rebukes from lawmakers. Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said in a letter that he would not share investigative documents or allow his top lieutenants to sit for transcribed interviews before House committees investigating the attack, nor would he provide documents that lawmakers requested.
Jan. 6 Grand Jury Has Subpoenaed White House Documents
Seattle Times – Alan Feuer, Luke Broadwater, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 8/17/2022
Federal prosecutors investigating the role that former President Trump and his allies played in the events leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol issued a grand jury subpoena to the National Archives for all the documents the agency provided to a parallel House select committee inquiry. The subpoena, issued to the National Archives in May, made a sweeping demand for “all materials, in whatever form” the archives had given to the January 6 House committee. Those materials included records from the files of Trump’s top aides, his daily schedule, and phone logs and a draft text of the president’s speech that preceded the riot.
Justice Department Opposes Release of Mar-a-Lago Affidavit
MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 8/15/2022
The Justice Department asked a judge to keep sealed the affidavit underpinning the FBI’s search of former President Trump’s Florida residence, a document thought to hold key details about the government’s investigation into the potential mishandling of classified materials. The court filing was made in response to requests from multiple media outlets seeking the affidavit’s public release. Affidavits typically contain information addressing why authorities think there is evidence at a certain property and other details about a probe. The Justice Department argued that releasing the affidavit could hamper its investigation and potentially harm those involved.
Justice Department Subpoenas Trump White House Lawyer Eric Herschmann
MSN – Betsy Woodruff Swan (Politico) | Published: 8/15/2022
A federal grand jury investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann for documents and testimony. Herschmann represented Donald Trump in the former president’s first impeachment trial and later joined the White House as a senior adviser. He did not work in the White House counsel’s office but did provide Trump with legal advice. Because of that responsibility, there will likely be litigation over the scope of the subpoena and over how executive and attorney-client privileges may limit Herschmann’s ability to comply.
Liz Cheney Loses Primary While Vowing Effort to Keep Trump from White House
MSN – Paul Kane and Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 8/16/2022
Rep. Liz Cheney, the once-high-ranking Republican who defied her party to wage a lonely crusade against former President Trump, lost her primary by a wide margin while vowing she would do everything in her power to keep Trump from returning to the White House. Harriet Hageman, a lawyer with Trump’s endorsement, ousted Cheney, clinching the GOP nomination for Wyoming’s only U.S. House seat.
On TikTok, Election Misinformation Thrives Ahead of Midterms
Seattle Times – Tiffany Hsu (New York Times) | Published: 8/14/2022
Ahead of the midterm elections this fall, TikTok is shaping up to be a primary incubator of baseless and misleading information, in many ways as problematic as Facebook and Twitter, say researchers who track online falsehoods. The same qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads – the platform’s enormous reach, the short length of its videos, its powerful but poorly understood recommendation algorithm – can also make inaccurate claims difficult to contain. Baseless conspiracy theories about certain voter fraud in November are widely viewed on TikTok, which globally has more than a billion active users each month.
Sinema Took Wall Street Money While Killing Tax on Investors
MSN – Brian Slodysko (Associated Press) | Published: 8/14/2022
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who single-handedly thwarted her party’s longtime goal of raising taxes on wealthy investors, received nearly $1 million over the last year from private equity professionals, hedge fund managers, and venture capitalists whose taxes would have increased under the plan. For years, Democrats have promised to raise taxes on such investors, who pay a significantly lower rate on their earnings than ordinary workers. But Sinema forced a series of changes to the $740-billion election-year spending package.
Trump-Allied Lawyers Pursued Voting Machine Data in Multiple States, Records Reveal
Anchorage Daily News – Emma Brown, Jon Swaine, Aaron Davis, and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/15/2022
A team of computer experts directed by lawyers allied with former President Trump copied sensitive data from election systems in Georgia as part of a secretive, multistate effort to access voting equipment that was broader, more organized, and more successful than previously reported. As they worked to overturn Trump’s 2020 election defeat, the lawyers asked a forensic data firm to access county election systems in at least three battleground states. There is growing concern among experts that officials sympathetic to Trump’s claims of vote-rigging could undermine election security in the name of protecting it.
Trump’s Angry Words Spur Warnings of Real Violence
MSN – David Klepper (Associated Press) | Published: 8/16/2022
A growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters seem ready to strike back against the FBI or others who they believe go too far in investigating the former president. Law enforcement officials across the country are warning and being warned about an increase in threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Experts who study radicalization and online disinformation note the recent increase was sparked by a legal search of Trump’s home. What might happen in the event of arrests or indictments?
Trump’s Secrets: How a records dispute led the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Rosalind Helderman, Jacqueline Alemany, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 8/13/2022
The court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago was a remarkable moment even for Donald Trump, who has been under investigation by state and federal prosecutors nearly continuously since he swore the oath of office in 2017. What began as a low-level dispute over the Trump White House’s chaotic and haphazard record-keeping had morphed into a deeply serious probe of whether the ex-president had endangered national security by hoarding highly classified documents, some potentially related to nuclear weapons. The events marked a turning point in the Justice Department’s posture toward Trump.
Vance, DeSantis Rally Puts ‘Highly Unusual’ Restrictions on Press
MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 8/16/2022
Journalists hoping to cover a Republican rally featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio will have to agree to give organizers access to any footage they take and could face questions about what it will be used for. That is among the controversial restrictions placed on journalists as a condition of receiving a press pass to cover the event, which is being organized by Turning Point Action, a conservative nonprofit led by activist Charlie Kirk.
From the States and Municipalities
California – A Bay Area Councilman Had a 14-Year-Old as His Campaign Treasurer. Regulators Want to Put a Kibosh on That.
MSN – Gabriel Greschler (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 8/11/2022
In a ruling released in May that included $15,000 in fines for multiple campaign-related violations, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) noted Milpitas City Councilperson Anthony Phan hired his 14-year-old cousin as his campaign treasurer. Phan told authorities he gave the teenager $43,000 in cash in a shoebox, and the money was later misreported on campaign disclosures. Now, a newly proposed rule from FPPC staff would prohibit minors from serving in key positions like treasurer or campaign strategist.
California – California Lawmaker Faces Scandal After Lobbyist Tweets About Alleged Affair
MSN – Ken Carlson (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 8/12/2022
State Assemblyperson Heath Flora is dealing with revelations of alleged extramarital affairs as he completes a third term and considers other ambitions. Emily Hughes, a lobbyist for the California Medical Association before she left the job in May, wrote about their relationship on Twitter. The purported involvement with a medical industry lobbyist can create an ethics problem for Flora, who is a member of the Assembly Health Committee. A romantic relationship with a medical industry lobbyist triggers conflict-of-interest rules that might require Flora to abstain from matters before the committee. It also triggers limits on the value of gifts.
California – California Lawmakers Use Secretive Process to Kill Would-Be Laws: ‘Where good bills go to die’
MSN – Andrew Sheeler, Lindsey Holden, and Stephen Hobbs (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 8/16/2022
Twice a year, a legislative instrument called the suspense file leaves many California lawmakers, lobbyists, and members of the public seething. Appropriations committees in the state Senate and Assembly use it to kill or quietly amend bills before they can reach the floor. Proponents say the suspense file is a tool of efficiency, essential for screening the hundreds of bills that come through the Legislature each year for their potential fiscal impact. Detractors call it a burial ground, used by lawmakers for decades to bury politically hazardous measures before they are forced to vote on them.
California – In Wake of ‘Pay to Play’ Fine at OC’s Health Plan for the Poor, Legislators Consider Action
Voice of OC – Nick Gerda | Published: 8/17/2022
In the wake of a “pay-to-play” state fine raising questions about Orange County’s health care plan for the poor, state legislators are now considering banning county supervisors like Andrew Do from working for the agency in the year after they leave office. State regulators fined Do $12,000 for using his CalOptima board position to try to push through lobbying contracts for two of his campaign donors. A media report revealed Do has been growing his influence at the health plan, triggering concerns from local health care leaders and state legislators about the politicization of CalOptima.
Colorado – Colorado Secretary of State Considers New Rules to Implement Campaign Contribution Limits
Colorado Politics – Hannah Metzger | Published: 8/15/2022
The Colorado secretary of state’s office is considering new campaign finance regulations, issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking and scheduling a public hearing. The potential changes stem from two bills passed during this year’s legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis: House Bill 1060, which caps donation amounts made to school board candidates, and House Bill 1156, which updates reporting requirements for public officials.
Colorado – Public Money Supports Conservative Colorado Lobbying Group Through Membership Dues
Colorado Newsline – Zoe Schacht | Published: 8/15/2022
Membership in a conservative group that lobbies for property tax cuts and maintaining the Denver’s camping ban is not exclusive to chief executives of private companies. Higher-ups in publicly funded institutions such as universities have a seat at the table, meaning public money is being used to support the group’s conservative agenda. The University of Colorado’s involvement helps it maintain relationships with potential donors and creates networking opportunities for alumni, said Ken McConnellogue, the interim vice president for communications.
Connecticut – Port Authority Replaces Ethics Liaison, Weighs in on Previous Missteps
Connecticut Examiner – Brendan Crowley | Published: 8/16/2022
In a move reportedly unrelated to his recently announced ethics violation, the Connecticut Port Authority has replaced Andrew Lavigne as its liaison to the Office of State Ethics. Veronica Calvert, who recently re-joined the authority as its finance director, replaced Lavigne in the role. Lavigne’s involvement in the ethics violation drew scrutiny from at least one board member. David Pohorylo said it was a “shame” the violation resulted in board member Don Frost being replaced, “yet others who did accept gifts have suffered no consequences.”
Florida – DeSantis Sued by Prosecutor Suspended Over Stance on Abortion-Related Crime
MSN – Kim Bellware and Lateshia Beachum (Washington Post) | Published: 8/17/2022
A Florida prosecutor sued Gov. Ron DeSantis in a bid to be reinstated after he was dismissed from his post for pledging he would not prosecute cases stemming from the state’s 15-week abortion ban and potential bans on gender-affirming care. Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren argued his suspension was unlawful on First Amendment grounds and characterized his removal as “retaliation” by DeSantis against a critic and political rival.
Florida – Elections Panel Issues $21K Fine to Committee Connected to Associated Industries of Florida
Florida Politics – Gary Rohrer | Published: 8/16/2022
The Florida Election Commission issued a $21,250 fine to a political committee that has received more than $1.7 million from entities connected to Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) in the last four years. The sanction stems from an $85,000 transfer from the Floridians for Economic Advancement committee to Citizens for a United Florida Inc. in January 2021. The transfer was not reported to the state until November 2021. For such a sophisticated operation to have such a large payment go missing for nine months is suspicious, Commission Chairperson Nicholas Primrose said.
Florida – Mullins, ‘Potentially Bankrupt,’ Lists Different Net Worth Values on Two Legal Forms, but Says Both Are Accurate
Palm Coast Observer – Jonathan Simmons | Published: 8/14/2022
Flagler County Commission Chairperson Joe Mullins filed an August 2 document with the Circuit Court stating his net worth was negative $675,192.16 and he was “potentially bankrupt.” About two months before, he submitted a form to the Supervisor of Elections Office stating his net worth was (positive) $515,602. Mullins in a statement said the elections form and the court filing are both accurate despite the difference in the numbers, because the forms account for different things and were filed about two months apart.
Florida – This Florida Utility’s Secret Cash Helped GOP Win Gainesville State Senate Seat
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klaus, Nicholas Nehama, and Ana Claudia Chacin | Published: 8/5/2022
Florida Power & Light (FPL) wanted a Republican incumbent to retain a state Senate seat against a strong Democratic challenger. The utility used a nonprofit group, Broken Promises, to secretly bankroll a spoiler candidate. Running as a no-party candidate in the general election, that spoiler split the liberal vote, swinging the race to the incumbent. Broken Promises did not have to disclose its donors, so no one knew FPL paid to secretly manipulate a state election. It raises questions about whether the utility “subverted” a fair election, said Saurav Ghosh of the Campaign Legal Center.
Georgia – Giuliani Appears Before Georgia Grand Jury in Election Probe
MSN – Matthew Brown and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 8/17/2022
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis achieved a long-sought goal with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appearing for six hours before a grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Giuliani, who is now the highest-profile member of former President Trump’s inner circle to appear before grand jurors, was informed he is a target of the inquiry. It is not clear what Giuliani said in his closed-door appearance. It came as Willis also saw new challenges to her inquiry.
Georgia – Judge Orders Graham to Testify in Atlanta-Area Trump Probe
Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney, Nicholas Wu, and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 8/16/2022
A federal judge turned down U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bid to throw out a subpoena compelling him to testify before the Atlanta-area grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. The ruling is a victory for District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading the grand jury probe that resulted in a subpoena for Graham to appear for an interview. Investigators intend to query Graham about two phone calls with Georgia election officials, at the same time Trump was attempting to subvert his defeat, that included a discussion of the process for counting absentee ballots.
Illinois – Ethics Board Clears Lightfoot’s Use of City Vehicles, Aides, Security Detail on Campaign Trail
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 8/17/2022
Mayor Lori Lightfoot can travel to campaign events in her city vehicle accompanied by an aide and her security detail, all paid for by taxpayers, without violating the city’s ethics ordinance, the Chicago Board of Ethics determined. The advisory opinion represents the first time the board has addressed the issues that surround the decision by an incumbent mayor to run for re-election. The opinion comes as the Ethics Board has faced several cases involving elected officials accused of improperly using city resources for non-official purposes.
Indiana – Ex-GOP State Sen. Brent Waltz Gets 10 Months in Prison for Straw Donor Scheme
MSN – Johnny Magdaleno (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 8/17/2022
Former Indiana Sen. Brent Waltz was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment after he acknowledged his role in a scheme to route $40,500 in illegal contributions to his failed bid for Congress. Waltz pleaded guilty to making and receiving conduit contributions and making false statements to the FBI. He was charged after he worked with political consultant Kelley Rogers to funnel funds from Indiana casino company New Centaur to his 2015 House campaign through straw donors.
Indiana – Rokita Consultant Hired, But Facing $18,000 in Lobbyist Registration Fines
Indiana Capital Chronicle – Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | Published: 8/11/2022
A conservative policy activist and consultant working on contract for Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office was hired as a lobby-exempt, full-time employee after she mistakenly registered as a lobbyist for the wrong entity but faces $18,000 in related fines. State law requires lobbyists to not only file registration statements (within 15 days of becoming a lobbyist, plus annually), but also file semi-annual activity reports. Lobbyists must also complete separate filings for gifts, purchases, amendments, and activity terminations. Miss a deadline, and a lobbyist is fined $100 a day, up to $4,500, until the filing is in.
New York – Casino Pushing for NYC License Forces Out Executive and Mayor Adams’ Pal Over City Job
New York Post – Carl Campanile and Bernadette Hogan | Published: 8/14/2022
Resorts World casino has “parted ways” with its security director, Timothy Pearson, after learning the longtime friend of New York City Mayor Eric Adams was serving as a public safety advisor to the mayor while getting paid by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Pearson’s position with the city’s economic development arm raised ethics concerns as Resorts World is seeking to expand its gambling operations in Queens.
New York – Judge Rules Against State Ethics Panel in Cuomo’s Book Deal Case
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 8/16/2022
A New York Supreme Court justice ruled against the former state ethics commission in its court battle seeking to force ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repay $5.1 million he received for writing a book about his administration’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman’s ruling upholding Cuomo’s petition to scuttle the actions of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics also found the commission had violated due process when it sought to undo an earlier approval of the book deal by a staff attorney.
New York – New York’s New State Government Ethics and Lobbying Oversight Body Takes Shape
Gotham Gazette – Ethan Geringer-Sameth | Published: 8/15/2022
New York’s new state government ethics commission, set to replace the Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), will soon take its first steps when its members are approved by a committee of law school deans. Nine out of 11 nominees to the new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government have been formally named by New York’s statewide elected officials and legislative leaders. For now, 46 JCOPE employees, including its final executive director, have remained at work under the new name, administering financial disclosures laws and maintaining and auditing the state’s lobbying registry, potentially giving informal guidance in the process.
New York – Senate GOP to Pay $200K Settlement in Campaign Finance Probe
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/16/2022
State Board of Elections enforcement counsel Michael Johnson charged that New York Senate Republicans abused their housekeeping account in the lead-up to the 2016 election by issuing a series of campaign-style mailers that allegedly crossed a line into expressly seeking election of GOP candidates. While potential fines and penalties could have totaled more than $2 million, Johnson signed off on the $200,000 settlement agreement. Senate Republicans suggest the investigation had partisan undertones, arguing Johnson’s legal theory contradicted a formal opinion authored by the Board of Elections in 2013.
New York – Trump CFO’s Plea Deal Could Make Him a Prosecution Witness
Yahoo News – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 8/18/2022
The chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s company, Allen Weisselberg, will plead guilty to tax violations in a deal that would require him to testify about illicit business practices at the Trump Organization. Weisselberg is charged with accepting more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation from the former president’s company over several years, including untaxed perks like rent, car payments, and school tuition. Attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. said his client would plead guilty in exchange for a promised sentence of five months in jail.
North Carolina – North Carolina Elections Board Looking for Public Input Regarding Political Committee Regulations
Center Square – Victor Skinner | Published: 8/16/2022
The North Carolina State Board of Elections is soliciting public comment on proposed rule changes regarding political committees that do not file finance disclosure reports on time. The proposed changes would allow a political committee, referendum committee, or individual to request a waiver of a civil late penalty by using a form on the board’s website and returning it within 60 days of the notice of penalty assessment.
Ohio – Texts, Calendars, Emails Link DeWine to FirstEnergy’s Bribery Scandal
Ohio Capital Journal – Jake Zuckerman | Published: 8/15/2022
Records suggest Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his administration were more active than previously known in pushing for passage of a nuclear power plant bailout now at the center of a corruption scandal. Records show DeWine met repeatedly to discuss energy policy with FirstEnergy officials and at least once with former House Speaker Larry Householder, who has been criminally accused of taking a bribe from the utility to pass House Bill 6. Despite warnings, DeWine appointed Sam Randazzo in 2019 to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. FirstEnergy admitted it paid Randazzo a $4.3 million bribe to act in the company’s interests.
Rhode Island – Rep. Carlos Tobon Hit with $3,600 Fine for Over a Dozen Ethics Violations
WPRI – Steph Machado, Eli Sherman, Ted Nesi, and Tim White | Published: 8/16/2022
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission fined state Rep. Carlos Tobon $3,600 after an investigation revealed he repeatedly violated the state ethics code by failing to report a series of unpaid debts, business ownerships, and board memberships despite a legal requirement to do so annually. Tobon never showed up to the House again after a media report aired on May 5, missing the final seven weeks of the legislative session. He was also kicked off the Finance Committee by Speaker Joe Shekarchi just hours after the story came out. Yet Tobon never resigned his seat.
Tennessee – Cothren Challenges Subpoena Order by State Registry
Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 8/16/2022
The former chief of staff for ex-House Speaker Glen Casada is continuing to fight a subpoena to testify before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance about a PAC he ran secretly to attack political adversaries. Cynthia Sherwood, the attorney for Cade Cothren, claims the court should not hold him in contempt for invoking his right against self-incrimination in response to subpoenas. In advance of a hearing, Sherwood is arguing that overlapping cases against the former House speaker’s chief of staff should circumvent the state subpoena.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Assembly Leader Axes 2020 Election Investigation After Beating Trump-Backed Primary Challenger
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 8/12/2022
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos ended a controversial partisan review of the 2020 election, which he and GOP legislators had funded for the past year, days after Vos defeated a primary challenger. Vos ended the review and removed the chief investigator, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, after more than a year and over $1 million in spending. Vos narrowly won his primary over an opponent who had endorsements from both former President Trump and Gableman.
Wyoming – Confusion, Compliance Concerns Color Campaign Finance Filings
WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 8/15/2022
In the wake of Wyoming’s first campaign finance filings of 2022, some lawmakers, candidates, and elections watchers are raising concerns about accountability, lack of oversight, and confusion. In a year with “election integrity” on the ballot in numerous races, and what is shaping up to be record spending, some fear new rules and a lack of proactive compliance checks by the secretary of state could result in inadvertent violations, or worse.
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