August 25, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 25, 2023
DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 8/17/2023
A group that works to elect Democrats as the top election officials in states around the country is planning a $10 million venture to pay for private security for election officials of both parties, register new voters, and try to combat disinformation. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State is starting a tax-exempt organization called Value the Vote that will initially focus on five battleground states: Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 8/22/2023
The federal grand jury in the District of Columbia that helped investigate Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents has ended, special counsel Jack Smith said in a court filing, which laid out new details about how the probe quietly expanded to look at alleged coverup efforts. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are sparring over the use of two grand juries to investigate Trump’s alleged hoarding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his home and private club. Trump is charged with illegally retaining national defense information after leaving the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve the material.
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Michael Scherer, and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 8/23/2023
Republican presidential contenders targeted each other as much as they did the absent front-runner, Donald Trump, in a combative first debate with a series of clashes reflecting the fierce competition to emerge as the main alternative to the former president. Trump’s decision to skip the event, a choice that highlighted his commanding polling lead, left him without a defense over two hours that marked the official start of the nomination battle. His biggest consolation came when all but one of the candidates onstage raised their hands to signal they would support Trump if he won the nomination and was convicted of a crime in a court of law.
MSN – Kimberly Kindy (Washington Post) | Published: 8/21/2023
In Washington, D.C., the White House and federal lawmakers are pursuing ways to constrain Chinese-owned businesses like TikTok amid a bipartisan push to limit China’s reach. Now state legislators have embraced a novel, locally focused tactic aimed at China’s domestic investments: restrictions on Chinese land ownership. Lawmakers in 33 states have introduced bills this year that would prohibit the Chinese government, some China-based businesses, and many Chinese citizens from buying agricultural land or property near military bases.
OpenSecrets – Maia Cook | Published: 8/18/2023
Super PACs, now a staple in modern presidential campaigns, are already gearing up to spend unlimited sums to support and oppose candidates for the 2024 election and many of those groups have a cozy relationship with the candidates they support. This might raise eyebrows to people that remember Citizens United, which stated any coordination between a campaign committee and an outside group backing their campaign – including PACs, corporations, nonprofits, and unions – is illegal.
Stateline – Matt Vasilogambros | Published: 8/21/2023
Over the past decade, ranked choice voting has become increasingly popular. From conservative Utah to liberal New York City, 13 million American voters in 51 jurisdictions now use the system, under which voters rank candidates based on preference, leading to an instant runoff in a crowded race. This year, Democrats and Republicans in power pushed back. Arguing that ranked choice voting is too complicated for voters to understand, Democrats in the District of Columbia and Republicans in states such as Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota took steps to prevent adoption of the voting system.
Yahoo News – Jonathan Swan, Alan Feuer, Luke Broadwater, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 8/22/2023
After receiving a subpoena from a grand jury investigating former President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Mark Meadows started a delicate dance with federal prosecutors. He had no choice but to testify eventually. Yet Meadows –Trump’s final White House chief of staff – initially declined to answer certain questions, sticking to his former boss’s position they were shielded by executive privilege. But when prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith challenged Trump’s executive privilege claims before a judge, Meadows pivoted.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama Daily News – Mary Sell | Published: 8/20/2023
The Alabama House Ethics Committee will begin discussing possible changes to the state’s multiple ethics laws that apply to elected officials, government employees, and lobbyists. The committee will first review a 2019 report from the Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission, a group created by the Legislature to propose changes to existing ethics laws.
CalMatters – Sameea Kamal | Published: 8/23/2023
State boards are backing a bill to continue the exemptions from California’s open meetings law. An unusual coalition of good government, press, taxpayer, and industry groups is fighting back. Senate Bill 544 seeks to remove requirements to post all teleconference locations, post agendas at each location, and make those locations accessible to the public. The bill’s opponents – a rare coalition of good government, press, taxpayer. and industry groups – say Californians should be able to address their government officials in person.
MSN – Dakota Smith and David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/23/2023
When the city council voted down a proposed appointment to the city Ethics Commission, it all happened quickly and quietly. No one on the council offered a reason for the swift, and some say brutal, unanimous vote rejecting Jamie York. But after days of complaints from York’s allies and neighborhood council leaders, the explanations have come tumbling out.
MSN – Adam Elmahrek, Nathan Fenno, and Gabriel San Román (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/16/2023
Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu agreed to plead guilty to four criminal charges, capping a years-long investigation into alleged corruption that led to his resignation and scuttled the city’s $320 million sale of Angel Stadium. The charges against Sidhu include lying to FBI agents about not expecting to receive anything from the Angels when the transaction closed – secret recordings captured him saying he hoped to secure a $1-million campaign contribution – and destroying an email in which he provided confidential information about the city’s negotiations to a team consultant.
MSN – Alfred Ng (Politico) | Published: 8/18/2023
One of the world’s largest advertising firms is crafting a campaign to thwart a California bill intended to enhance people’s control over the data that companies collect on them. Records show Interpublic Group emails reveal how an advertising company could use that same personal data and targeting capabilities to undermine a public policy proposal that threatens its bottom line.
Yahoo News – Stephanie Zappelli (San Louis Obispo Tribune) | Published: 8/19/2023
California Assemblyperson Dawn Addis was fined for accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist. When Addis ran for the Assembly in 2019, her campaign accepted a $250 donation from lobbyist Steve Black. The Political Reform Act bans lobbyists from donating to candidates running for office, and candidates from accepting such contributions. Both Addis and Black said they were unaware of the ban.
Colorado Politics – Michael Karlik | Published: 8/23/2023
A trial judge threw out a lawsuit from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers over the state’s rules for advocating on ballot initiatives after finding the conservative advocacy group had not shown the government was likely to take enforcement action against it for failing to comply with the transparency regulations. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled the group had a reasonable fear of drawing a complaint about its spending without registering, and, therefore, had the ability to sue over the campaign finance law.
District of Columbia – D.C. Attorney General Is Probing Leonard Leo’s Network
MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 8/22/2023
District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb is investigating judicial activist Leonard Leo and his network of nonprofit groups. The scope of the probe+ is unclear. But it comes after it was reported that one of Leo’s nonprofits paid his for-profit company tens of millions of dollars in the two years since he joined the company. A complaint was filed with the attorney general and the IRS requesting a probe into what services were provided and whether Leo was in violation of laws against using charities for personal enrichment.
MSN – Skyler Swisher (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 8/22/2023
Glen Gilzean resigned as chairperson of the Florida Commission on Ethics so he can keep his $400,000-a-year job leading Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Disney World oversight district. In his resignation letter, Gilzean wrote he was unaware of a potential conflict-of-interest under state law until media reports flagged it.
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 8/20/2023
Fundraisers for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hoped some lobbyists in the state would raise at least $1 million each for his PAC, the state, and the Republican Governors Association, according to a document from his primary fundraiser. The document suggested lobbyists be allowed to offer their clients perks, such as meals and rounds of golf with DeSantis. While it is common for politicians to seek donations from lobbyists, the efforts by DeSantis to effectively auction off his leisure time to those seeking to influence state policy created a special pathway of access for donors that is striking in the way it was documented in writing, ethics experts said.
MSN – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/15/2023
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to dismantle a congressional district formerly held by a Black Democrat could be reversed according to a surprise agreement between lawyers for the state and civil rights groups challenging Florida’s map. Under the agreement the plaintiffs will drop their legal challenges to congressional districts in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area, and focus arguments on the North Florida district they say violates state and federal voting rights protections for Black voters.
Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey and Joey Flechas (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/22/2023
The Florida Commission on Ethics is reviewing a complaint over Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s attendance at exclusive, high-priced sporting events since the start of 2022. The complaint asks ethics officials to investigate Suarez’s VIP access to various events, including the Miami Formula One race in May 2023, and whether somebody else paid. Suarez, who was invited along with his wife to this year’s race by a billionaire with business before the city, says he reimbursed the businessperson. He did not provide proof. If he did repay in full, the tickets would not be a gift and he would not have to disclose them.
MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 8/21/2023
A judge approved a $200,000 bond for former President Trump, who is expected to surrender on charges he and 18 allies illegally conspired to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. The consent bond order sets strict rules for Trump’s release. He is not allowed to communicate with witnesses or co-defendants about the case, except through his lawyers, and he is barred from intimidating witnesses or co-defendants.
WBEZ – Tessa Weinberg | Published: 8/16/2023
As the Chicago City Council enters its 100th year under its modern form, some aldermen, good government advocates, and political science experts say despite incremental progress, the council still has institutional inertia to overcome before it can operate independently from the historical grip the mayor’s office has held. Proposals include altering the council’s structure, more robustly staffing fiscal and legislative agencies, and a wholesale reset on Chicago’s municipal governance by codifying reforms in a city charter.
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell and Jon Swaine (Washington Post) | Published: 4/19/2023
Newly unsealed court records provide insight into how law enforcement justified an unusual raid of the office of a Marion, Kansas, newspaper, a decision that has drawn widespread condemnation from news organizations and press freedom advocates. The Marion County Sheriff’s office said it was investigating “identity theft” and “unlawful acts concerning computers” when it searched the offices of the Marion County Record, the home of the paper’s publisher Eric Meyer, and the home of a local city council member – seizing computers, cell phones, and other materials, according to search warrant affidavits.
Louisville Public Media – Roberto Roldan | Published: 8/20/2023
Metro Councilperson Anthony Piagentini was an early supporter of a plan by the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council to train hundreds of entry-level workers and build an “innovation corridor” in the city. But when the $40 million project came up for a final vote in December, Piagentini abstained and removed himself as a co-sponsor without explanation. It was later found he took a job with the Healthcare CEO Council one day after the metro council approved funding. Piagentini faces an ethics board hearing in the case.
Baltimore Brew – Mark Reutter | Published: 8/23/2023
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy issued an unusual memorandum recently. Titled “Attempted Bribes,” it informed her staff that “City of Baltimore employees are not permitted to accept bribes.” Kennedy listed the processing of permits, performing building inspections, issuing housing code violations, and acquiring and disposing of property as potential interactions where bribes could take place. Her memo came on the heels of an alert by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, which found building inspectors were not sure what to do when they were offered cash or gift cards.
MSN – Lia Russell (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 8/16/2023
In the three years since its inception, Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan’s office has gone from three people toiling in a small windowless room to doubling its staff size and budget. That was the main message of its annual report, summarizing what Madigan’s office has accomplished during the previous fiscal year. The office is charged with rooting out fraud, misconduct, and waste within county government.
WXYZ – Staff | Published: 8/22/2023
The former mayor of Taylor, Michigan, is facing years in prison after entering into a plea agreement in a federal corruption case. Sollars admitted to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds by accepting things of value to influence and reward business transactions related to the city’s Right of Refusal program. The indictment said Sollars accepted over $30,000 in renovations to his home, more than $12,000 worth of household appliances and cabinets, cash, and other items to give a company city business.
Omaha World-Herald – Lauren Wagner and Molly Ashford | Published: 8/23/2023
A federal judge rejected a third attempt by former Omaha City Councilperson Vincent Palermo to be released from custody. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart said there was no reason to allow Palermo to be released after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge recently. She also had concerns about Palermo obstructing justice if released. Palermo admitted to conspiring with his co-defendants to deprive the citizens of Omaha of honest representation by their city council member.
MSN – Matt Arco, Brent Johnson, and Susan Livio (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 8/21/2023
Two longtime advisers to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, including one who is poised to run for the state Assembly in the fall, were once the subject of a federal subpoena seeking records related to them and their consulting and lobbying firms. In the subpoena, federal prosecutors requested the recipient to present emails and documents to or from Brendan Gill, his public affairs consulting firm, The BGill Group, and the lobbying firm he is affiliated with, Public Strategies Impact. The subpoena, issued in February 2020, also sought similar documents and emails to and from Adam Alonso, Murphy’s former deputy chief of staff.
New Jersey – Democrat Challenging Testa Is Ghosting the Campaign
Press of Atlantic City – Bill Barlow | Published: 8/23/2023
Charles Laspata filed petitions in the spring to challenge incumbent New Jersey Sen. Michael Testa, It does not appear that Laspata has done much about the campaign since then. Democratic leaders in Cape May and Cumberland counties say they have not heard from Laspata, and attempts to contact him through email, social media, and by phone have been unsuccessful. The website of the Election Law Enforcement Commission does not show any of Lasopata’s required campaign finance forms have been filed for the primary election.
Yahoo News – Colleen Heild (Albuquerque Journal) | Published: 8/17/2023
Some provisions of a New Mexico campaign finance law limiting the amount of money state political parties can give are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled. The court enjoined the state from enforcing its $11,000 limit on contributions from state political parties to gubernatorial candidates or candidate committees; its $5,500 limit per election cycle for all other candidates; and the state’s $5,500 cap from state political parties to county parties. The judge upheld a $27,500 cutoff on donations from individuals and entities to state political parties.
North Carolina – N.C. Republican Bill Limits Mail Voting, Private Election Funding
MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 8/17/2023
Republicans in North Carolina passed election administration legislation that curtails absentee voting, empowers partisan poll watchers, and restricts private funding for elections. Voting rights advocates and Democrats have warned the measure, which passed both chambers in the Legislature along party lines, erodes access to the ballot in the battleground state. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the legislation, but Republicans can overturn his decision because they have veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers.
Tulsa World – Barbara Hoberock | Published: 8/23/2023
With funding of critical concern, trouble appears to be on the horizon for Oklahoma’s electronic campaign filing system. In a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Kevin Stitt, outgoing state Ethics Commission Executive Director Ashley Kemp said the system needs an upgrade or replacement. She suggested that going back to paper filings would be an option.
MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 8/21/2023
A nonprofit led by Orego’s public employee unions filed two ballot measure proposals that contain an end-run strategy aimed at defeating a proposal that campaign finance reformers have been working to qualify for the ballot to cap contributions and shed light on “dark money.” The two measures that Our Oregon filed to get on the ballot in 2024 would similarly limit the size of donations, but they would allow unions, business associations, and other membership organizations to continue sending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to candidates.
WTAJ – Rebecca Parsons | Published: 8/23/2023
A new bill in Pennsylvania aims to increase transparency in elections by requiring campaigns and campaign organizations to itemize reimbursements on campaign finance reports. “… Donors give to campaigns with the expectation that their funds are going to be used for legitimate campaign expenditures and they deserve to know specifically how that money is being spent …,” said Rep. Jamie Barton, the bill’s sponsor.
MSN – Edward Fitzpatrick (Boston Globe) | Published: 8/23/2023
Rhode Island’s First Congressional District race has delved into matters of climate change, defense spending, and education, but a less familiar issue is emerging as the campaign enters its final two weeks: “red-boxing.” Lt .Gov. Sabina Matos, one of 12 Democrats in the race, has accused rival Aaron Regunberg of lying about publishing information on his campaign website that she claims was aimed at helping a super PAC boost his candidacy. Regunberg in turn has accused Matos and other candidates of posting information intended for super PACs backing their campaigns.
Charleston Post and Courier – Skylar Laird | Published: 8/17/2023
Former Richland County Councilperson Gwen Kennedy used her county taxpayer money to buy groceries, as well as “double dip” on travel expenses, and buy gas multiple times on the same day, a South Carolina Ethics Commission attorney said. Kennedy also misused campaign funds while running for county council, failed to file a number of required disclosures, and violated several other state ethics laws, commission General Counsel Courtney Laster said.
MSN – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 8/17/2023
State Sen. Jessica Castleberry announced her resignation after an investigation found she violated the South Dakota State Constitution by accepting federal funds for her small business. Castleberry will be required to repay the state $499,129 with interest after she accepted COVID-19 stimulus funds for her daycare. Attorney General Marty Jackley said none of the money was spent inappropriately and went toward Department of Social Services-approved expenditures. He did not say why it took three years for someone to notice the expenditures.
MSN – Lauren McGaughy (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 8/18/2023
Thousands of pages of newly released documents purport to reveal the depth of the relationship between Ken Paxton and Nate Paul, the real estate developer at the center of the Texas attorney general’s impeachment case. The evidence goes to the heart of the impeachment allegations, that Paxton used his power to help Paul thwart a federal investigation into his business, which had been raided by the FBI in 2019, and Paul bribed Paxton by funding a home remodel and giving a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.
Seatte Times – Bob Brunner | Published: 8/19/2023
After months of resistance, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson disclosed the donors behind more than $1.2 million in surplus campaign funds from past years he shifted to his 2024 gubernatorial bid. Ferguson pumped the cash into his campaign in April and May, getting ahead of a state Public Disclosure Commission vote that aimed to close the loophole allowing such anonymous transfers, which critics said violate the spirit of campaign finance laws.
MSN – Scott Bauer (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 8/23/2023
Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature asked that the newest Democratic-backed justice on the state Supreme Court recuse herself from lawsuits seeking to overturn GOP-drawn electoral maps, arguing she has prejudged the cases. Republicans argue in motions filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court that Justice Janet Protasiewicz cannot fairly hear the cases because during her campaign for the seat she called the Republican-drawn maps “unfair” and “rigged” and said there needs to be “a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”
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