August 26, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 26, 2022
An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives
Seattle Times – Kenneth Vogel and Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 8/22/2022
A new conservative group received $1.6 billion from one donor, which among the largest – if not the largest – single contributions ever made to a politically focused nonprofit. The source of the money was Barre Seid, an electronics manufacturing mogul. The beneficiary is a nonprofit controlled by Leonard Leo, an activist who has used his connections to Republican donors and politicians to help engineer the conservative dominance of the Supreme Court and to finance battles over abortion rights, voting rules, and climate change policy.
Ex-Interior Secretary Zinke Lied to Investigators in Casino Case, Watchdog Finds
MSN – Lisa Rein and Anna Phillips (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2022
Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leading contender to win a new U.S. House seat representing Montana this fall, lied to investigators several times about conversations he had with federal officials, lawmakers, and lobbyists about a petition by two Indian tribes to operate a casino in New England, the department’s watchdog said. Investigators concluded that when questioned about his talks with Interior attorneys and others outside the department, Zinke and his then-chief of staff failed to comply with their “duty of candor” as public officials to tell the truth, the report said.
Federal Campaign Spending on Childcare Expenses Grows in 2022 Midterms
OpenSecrets – Taylor Giorno | Published: 8/17/2022
Federal candidates are on track to spend more money on childcare ahead of 2022 midterms than in either of the previous two election cycles. For the first time since the FEC approved the expense in 2018, men are driving the increase in childcare expenditures. U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell’s campaign spent more money on childcare than any other male federal candidate this election cycle as of June 30. A record number of mothers were sworn into Congress in 2019. But an analysis shows fewer women are using federal funds to cover childcare expenses this election cycle.
Files Copied from Voting Systems Were Shared with Trump Supporters, Election Deniers
MSN – Jon Swaine, Aaron Davis, Amy Gardner, and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 8/22/2022
Sensitive election system files obtained by attorneys working to overturn former President Trump’s 2020 defeat were shared with election deniers, conspiracy theorists, and right-wing commentators. A computer forensics firm hired by the attorneys placed the files on a server, where company records show they were downloaded dozens of times. The records include contracts between the firm and the Trump-allied attorneys, notably Sidney Powell. The data files are described as copies of components from election systems in Coffee County, Georgia, and Antrim County, Michigan.
‘It’s a Rip-Off’: GOP spending under fire as Senate hopefuls seek rescue
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf (Washington Post) | Published: 8/19/2022
Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls are getting crushed on airwaves across the country while their national campaign fund is pulling ads and running low on cash, leading some campaign advisers to demand an audit of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) finances. The NRSC canceled bookings worth about $10 million. A spokesperson said the NRSC is not abandoning those races but prioritizing ad spots that are shared with campaigns and benefit from discounted rates. Still, the cancellations forfeit cheaper prices that came from booking early, and better budgeting could have covered both.
Justice Dept. Memo to Not Charge Trump in Russia Probe Released
MSN – Devlin Barrett and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2022
The Justice Department released the entire text of a secret 2019 memo that laid out the legal rationale for not charging then-President Trump with committing obstruction of justice in the investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The memo says no potential instances of obstruction of justice by Trump that were cited by special counsel Robert Mueller III’s “would warrant a prosecution for obstruction of justice,” regardless of whether the person being investigated was a sitting president.
New Claims Against Ex-Miami Congressman Hired by Venezuela
Yahoo News – Joshua Goodman (Associated Press) | Published: 8/20/2022
Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who signed a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist government, not only did no apparent work, but also channeled a large chunk of the money to a yacht company on behalf of a fugitive billionaire, according to new allegations in a civil suit. Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting was sued by PDV USA, a Delaware-based affiliate of Venezuelan-owned Citgo. It alleges Rivera performed no work for the $50 million contract he signed in 2017 for three months of “strategic consulting” meant to build bridges with key U.S. stakeholders.
Rep. Cawthorn Tells Feds He Forgot About $236K; Sends Amended Campaign Finance Report
Yahoo News – Joe Burgess (Asheville Citizen-Times) | Published: 8/22/2022
Days after filing a mandatory federal campaign finance document whose month-late arrival could garner him more than $17,000 in fines, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn has filed another document saying he got the first report wrong. That is because he forgot about the $235,566 that he personally gave the campaign, the latest report says. While amendments such as the one Cawthorn filed are not uncommon, ones that show large changes can trigger FEC action, said FEC spokesperson Mills Martin. “What is part of the amendment that might be looked at by the FEC are what the changes are and what the additional amounts are,” Martin said.
Republicans Turn Against League of Women Voters
ProPublica – Megan O’Matz | Published: 8/18/2022
The League of Women Voters, known for focusing on voter registration, hosting debates, and conducting candidate surveys, has been more visible recently in advocating for issues like racial equity and abortion rights. As a result, the league is drawing criticism in ways that are extraordinary for the once-staid group. Republicans are pushing back, casting it as a collection of angry leftists. With more right-leaning candidates snubbing the league, voters are less likely to hear directly from those candidates in unscripted forums. That pushback sidelines the league at a time when misinformation has become a significant force in elections at every level.
Some Companies’ Political Spending Fuel Voter Suppression. Shareholders are Pushing Back
Fast Company – Kathryn Kranhold (Capital & Main) | Published: 8/25/2022
Shareholders are pressuring some of the largest American corporations to account for political spending that may be aiding voter suppression or election interference. In the past, shareholder activism has focused mostly on corporate-responsibility causes, such as environmental issues and pay equity between men and women as well as governance like executive pay. The newest movement, addressing threats to democracy, is gaining traction.
Trump Had More Than 300 Classified Documents at Mar-a-Lago
Yahoo News – Maggie Haberman, Jodi Kantor, Adam Goldman, and Ben Protess (New York Times) | Published: 8/22/2022
The initial batch of documents retrieved by the National Archives from former President Trump in January included more than 150 marked as classified, a number that ignited concern at the Justice Department and helped trigger the investigation that led FBI agents to search Mar-a-Lago seeking to recover more, people briefed on the matter said. In total, the government has recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Trump since he left office. The volume of the sensitive material found in Trump’s possession helps explain why the Justice Department moved so urgently to hunt down any further classified materials he might have.
Trump Kept More Than 700 Pages of Classified Documents, Letter from National Archives Says
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 8/23/2022
Donald Trump took more than 700 pages of classified documents, including some related to the nation’s most covert intelligence operations, to his private club and residence in Florida when he left the White House, according to a letter the National Archives sent to his lawyers. The letter described the alarm in the Justice Department as officials realized how serious the documents were. It also suggested top prosecutors and members of the intelligence community were delayed in conducting a damage assessment about the documents’ removal as Trump’s lawyers tried to argue some of them might have been protected by executive privilege.
White Coats in the State Capital: OB-GYNs become political force in abortion wars
Yahoo News – Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly (Politico) | Published: 8/22/2022
Physicians, many of whom have never mobilized politically, are banding together in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, lobbying state lawmakers, testifying before committees, forming PACs, and launching online campaigns against proposed abortion restrictions. Lawmakers who are physicians are using their medical backgrounds to persuade colleagues to scale back some of the more restrictive and punitive portions of anti-abortion laws being considered. The new groups’ early successes in some of the nation’s most conservative states signal the power they hope to wield in the coming months as well as in years to come.
Canada – Ethics Investigation Flags Problem with Transparency in Alberta’s Lobbyist Act
MSN – Hamdi Issawi (Edmonton Journal) | Published: 8/22/2022
One of Alberta’s rules for registering lobbyists needs to change “to promote public transparency” according to a recent investigation by the province’s office of the ethics commissioner. The office began an investigation in May to determine whether Mark Kuspira, the owner of a business known as Crush Imports, had breached the Lobbyists Act – specifically whether he failed to appropriately file a return with the lobbyist registry, and whether he had been lobbying without a filed return.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – Ranked Choice Voting, in First Test in Alaska, Is Already Under Attack
Yahoo News – Nathaniel Herz (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 8/17/2022
Alaskans went to the polls on August 16 for the first time using a new ranked choice system that is already under attack by a number of the politicians competing within it, and voters, in interviews, offered wide-ranging reviews. Many said they like the new system and called it intuitive. But there was also anger from voters across the political spectrum, even though much of the criticism of ranked choice has so far come from conservatives who assert it was set up to protect incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski from right-wing challengers.
Arizona – Court Battles Rage Over 3 Arizona Voter Initiatives
MSN – Bob Christie (Associated Press) | Published: 8/15/2022
Proponents of three voter initiatives who each turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify them for the November ballot are trying to beat back legal challenges that could prevent them from going before voters. Two of the measures – one requiring disclosure of who is funding political campaigns and another rolling back or blocking efforts by Republicans to tighten voting rules – are being challenged by pro-business groups. They alleged paid petition circulators made errors or omitted required information on their registrations with the secretary of state or petitions.
Arkansas – Court Tosses Arkansas Law Limiting Election Helpers
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Doug Thompson | Published: 8/23/2022
A 2009 Arkansas law forbidding one person from acting as translator for more than six voters in casting their ballots violates the federal Voting Rights Act, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Brooks ruled. A provision of the 1965 law allows voters who require assistance because of an inability to read or write to get assistance from a person of the voter’s choice, Brooks said. His order told state and county election officials to cease trying to enforce the six-person limit and strike all mention of it from election materials.
Arkansas – Settlement Requires Arkansas Senator to Unblock Critics
MSN – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 8/17/2022
Arkansas Sen. Jason Rapert will be required to unblock critics from his social media accounts under a settlement a national atheists’ group. Rapert is required to remove any restrictions on his social media accounts and will have to pay more than $16,000 to American Atheists for costs related to a lawsuit. Rapert said he is the founder and president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, which works to “restore the Judeo-Christian foundations of our government.”
California – California Targets Local Recall Election ‘Hyperpartisanship’
MSN – Don Thompson (Associated Press) | Published: 8/23/2022
Democratic lawmakers moved to limit the “hyperpartisanship” they said has increasingly corrupted California’s local recall elections, over the objection of Republicans who said it could boost costs and thwart voters’ will. Currently, voters generally decide whether to recall a sitting official and choose that official’s replacement at the same time and on the same ballot. But that could result in a replacement taking office with a minority of votes in a multi-candidate field, and with potentially fewer votes than the official who is ousted.
California – Judge Issues Order That Keeps Herb Wesson Off the L.A. City Council
MSN – David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/23/2022
A judge barred former Los Angeles City Councilperson Herb Wesson from returning to City Hall as a temporary fill-in for council member Mark Ridley-Thomas for at least two months, leaving his district without a voting representative. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California has argued Wesson is barred under the city’s term limit law from returning to the council while Ridley-Thomas fights corruption charges. Wesson served more than three terms, the maximum allowed, before being appointed to the temporary post earlier this year.
California – This Former L.A. Politician Took Cash in Envelopes. Now He’s Been Fined $79,830
MSN – David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/17/2022
Five years ago, Los Angeles City Councilperson Mitchell Englander took a fateful trip to Las Vegas with a clutch of businesspeople and city staffers, accepting a free hotel room, expensive liquor, and an envelope containing $10,000, among other things. That trip eventually led to a 14-month prison sentence for Englander. The city Ethics Commission voted recently to levy a $79,830 penalty against him for violating gift laws. Commission investigators concluded Englander far exceeded the city’s limits on gifts to public officials, failed to fully report those gifts, and misused his position as a council member.
Florida – DeSantis’s New Election Crimes Unit Makes Its First Arrests
MSN – Lori Rozsa and Tim Craig (Washington Post) | Published: 8/18/2022
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the first arrests made by the state’s new elections police force – twenty people previously incarcerated for murder or sexual assault who he said had illegally voted in the 2020 election. The Florida Legislature passed a bill creating the Office of Election Crimes and Security earlier this year at DeSantis’s behest. While the 2020 election went smoothly in Florida – DeSantis called it the “gold standard” for elections – the governor has said there are still issues and conservative lawmakers have sought to further tighten voting regulations.
Florida – Judge Blocks Florida’s ‘Stop Woke Act’ Restrictions for Private Companies
MSN – Tim Craig (Washington Post) | Published: 8/18/2022
A federal judge ruled that a Florida law restricting workplace bias or diversity training violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker said Florida has turned “the First Amendment upside down” by trying to regulate how employers train employees on topics such as racial inclusion and gender equity. The “Stop Woke Act” prohibits trainings in public schools, colleges and universities, and workplaces that may cause someone to feel guilty or ashamed about the past collective actions of their race or sex. A violation of the act is an offense under state anti-discrimination laws.
Georgia – Georgia PSC Elections Again Delayed After High Court Ruling
MSN – Jeff Amy (Associated Press) | Published: 8/19/2022
Two Georgia Public Service Commission elections will not occur this November, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, reversing an earlier appeals court ruling that allowed them to proceed. Instead, the justices reverted to the original decision by a federal judge in Atlanta that postponed the vote after finding that electing the five commissioners statewide illegally diluted Black votes. The Supreme Court ruled U.S. District Court Judge Steven Grimberg’s decision did not come too close to the election.
Georgia – Sen. Graham Gets Temporary Reprieve in Testifying Before Ga. Grand Jury
MSN – Amy Wang and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 8/21/2022
A federal appeals court has temporarily paused an order that would have required U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to testify before a Georgia grand jury investigating Republican efforts to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in the state. The legal maneuvering is the latest sign of tension between prosecutors and high-profile witnesses in the Fulton County district attorney’s expansive criminal probe of alleged election interference by former President Trump and his allies. After seeking repeated delays, Rudy Giuliani testified for six hours recently.
Michigan – Jury Convicts Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr. in Whitmer Kidnapping Plot
MSN – Tresa Baldas (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 8/23/2022
In a do-over for the government, a federal jury convicted two men charged with plotting to kidnap and kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer out of anger over her handling of the pandemic, ending a trial that highlighted the growth of violent extremism in America. Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted on all counts and face up to life in prison. The men were judged by a second, more diverse jury than in the first trial, which ended with no convictions for the government. Two men were acquitted in that trial and the jury deadlocked on charges against Fox and Croft Jr., triggering a mistrial that prompted the government to try again.
Missouri – Ex-St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Admits Federal Corruption Charges
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Joel Currier | Published: 8/23/2022
Former St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case against him and two other ex-city officials. He admitted to theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, racketeering, and wire fraud. Collins-Muhammad is the first of three ex-council members to plead guilty after being indicted on charges of accepting cash bribes from a local businessperson in exchange for tax breaks. He admitted accepting $7,000 in cash, $3,000 in campaign donations, a new iPhone 11, and a 2016 Volkswagen CC sedan in exchange for his help.
New Jersey – Car Insurance Bills Shine Spotlight on Lawmaker Ethics
New Jersey Monitor – Sophie Nieto-Munoz | Published: 8/23/2022
In New Jersey’s part-time Legislature, lawmakers are often involved in legislation related directly to their full-time careers. Often these votes generate little controversy, especially if the bills pass with wide support. While watchdogs might voice concerns about conflicts-of-interest, lawmakers say their day jobs offer an insider’s knowledge that helps them better shape potential policy. But sometimes public policy can lead to financial windfalls. That is why questions are swirling about whether two top lawmakers will financially benefit from a package of bills Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law recently.
New York – Lobbyists Navigate a More Civil Yet Nuanced Landscape in Albany
City & State – Tim Murphy | Published: 8/22/2022
For a decade, and until only about a year ago, lobbyists, advocates, consultants, and others seeking to influence Albany all feared one thing: the wrath of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his close advisors. Dealing with Cuomo’s inner circle was never pleasant, according to lobbyists, but cross them and they would lash out. In the past year with Gov. Kathy Hochul, they said that has changed.
North Carolina – N.C. Attorney General Can’t Be Charged with Crime Over Campaign Ad – Yet
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2022
An appeals court temporarily blocked an investigation into North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein over a negative campaign ad, saying the state law he is accused of violating is probably unconstitutional. The debate turns on a 1931 law that criminalized the publication of a “derogatory” campaign ad, “knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.” A grand jury is investigating whether Stein lied during his successful 2020 reelection campaign in an ad blaming his Republican rival for a backlog of untested rape kits. Even if the ad was false, Stein argued, it would be protected under current First Amendment doctrine.
Ohio – Cleveland Businessman Tony George Was Go-Between for FirstEnergy, Ex-House Speaker Larry Householder Over Nuclear Bailout
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 8/22/2022
New documents reveal a close relationship between Cleveland restaurateur Tony George and FirstEnergy in the House Bill 6 bribery scheme, with George acting as an intermediary between top company officials and now-indicted former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. Tracy Aston, FirstEnergy’s assistant controller, identified George as “Individual B” in the utility’s deferred prosecution agreement with federal authorities. The agreement says “Individual B” was in communication with now-fired FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jones about an early effort to bail out two nuclear power plants, as well as an aborted effort by Householder to skirt state term limits.
Ohio – The Hidden Role of a Religious Lobbying Group in Ohio’s Education ‘Backpack Bill’
Ohio Capital Journal – Zurie Pope | Published: 8/24/2022
An Ohio bill that would send public education money to private schools if a student chooses to attend one was written with help from religious lobbying group the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV) and a think tank that promotes charter schools. Documents reveal CCV’s involvement in House Bill has been more extensive than previously known and included the advice and promotion of outside groups like Heritage Action and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Pennsylvania – Philly’s Board of Ethics Will Consider Banning Super PAC ‘Redboxing’ Ahead of the 2023 Mayoral Race
Philadelphia Inquirer – Sean Collins Walsh | Published: 8/17/2022
The Philadelphia Board of Ethics heard testimony on whether it should tighten rules aimed at preventing campaigns from indirectly communicating with political groups that can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts but are prohibited from coordinating with candidates. A proposed amendment that aims to crack down on a new strategy known as “redboxing” that some candidates for federal office have used to give instructions to supportive outside spending groups without communicating with them directly. But election lawyers say the wording of the amendment is too broad and could unintentionally capture normal campaign messaging.
South Dakota – SD Gov. Kristi Noem May Have ‘Engaged in Misconduct,’ Ethics Board Says
NBC News – Associated Press | Published: 8/23/2022
The South Dakota Government Accountability Board said it found sufficient information that Gov. Kristi Noem may have “engaged in misconduct” when she intervened in her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser’s license, and it referred a separate complaint over her airplane use to the state attorney general for investigation. She is under scrutiny from the board after Jason Ravnsborg, the former attorney general, filed complaints that stemmed from media reports on Noem’s actions in office. The governor has denied any wrongdoing.
Tennessee – Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, Cade Cothren Plead Not Guilty to Federal Corruption Charges
MSN – Melissa Brown and Adam Friedman (Tennessean) | Published: 8/23/2022
Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, were arrested on federal corruption charges including bribery, kickbacks, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Prosecutors allege the pair ran a shadowy political consulting firm fronted by Cothren to solicit General Assembly business and siphon off kickbacks. Casada is the first current or former House speaker to be indicted in state history. He resigned as speaker amid a texting scandal over sexually explicit and racist conversations with Cothren.
Texas – Election Staff Abruptly Quits, Upending Rural Texas County
MSN – Paul Weber (Associated Press) | Published: 8/22/2022
Part of why Terry Hamilton says he abruptly left his job running elections in Gillespie County, Texas, is by now a familiar story in America – he became fed up with the harassment that followed the 2020 election. But this was no ordinary exit. On the brink of November’s midterm elections, it was not just Hamilton who quit but also the only other full-time election worker. The sudden emptying of an entire local elections department came less than 70 days before voters start casting ballots.
Texas – One Former and One Current State Rep Are Set to Get Part of Lucrative Houston Airport Contracts
AviationPros – Dylan McGuinness (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 8/18/2022
The Houston City Council passed a lucrative contract granting food and beverage shops inside Bush Intercontinental Airport to a partnership that includes a former legislative colleague and longtime friend of Mayor Sylvester Turner. The city said it will publicly announce the vendors after the second contract passes City Council. An affiliate of SSP Group is leading the food and beverage contract. Multiplex Inc., the concessions company founded by former state Rep. Helen Giddings of Dallas, is a junior partner in that deal. The SSP deal also involves Karen Garcia, the wife of Roland Garcia, who chaired the city’s Hispanic Advisory Council for Turner.
Texas – Texas Bans Local, State Government Entities from Doing Business with Firms That ‘Boycott’ Fossil Fuels
Texas Tribune – Mitchell Ferman | Published: 8/24/2022
Texas banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state after Comptroller Glenn Hegar said they did not support the oil and gas industry. Hegar sent inquiries to hundreds of financial companies earlier this year requesting information about whether they were avoiding investments in the oil and gas industry in favor of renewable energy companies. The survey was a result of a new law that went into effect in September and prohibits most state agencies, as well as local governments, from contracting with firms that have cut ties with carbon-emitting energy companies.
Washington – ‘Gold Standard’ or Unconstitutional? Facebook and Wash. State AG Spar Over Political Ad Disclosure Law
MSN – Todd Bishop (GeekWire) | Published: 8/16/2022
Facebook parent company Meta and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson agree on this: the state’s campaign advertising disclosure law is exceptional. But is that good or bad – and more importantly, is the law constitutional? That is a matter of significant disagreement as both sides prepare for a key hearing in King County Superior Court in Seattle. It promises to be a pivotal moment in a long-running dispute over the state’s public disclosure requirements for tech platforms that run campaign ads.
Wyoming – Secretary of State Halts Unusual Effort to Put Candidate on Ballot Against Gray
Casper Star-Tribune – Victoria Eavis | Published: 8/23/2022
The Wyoming secretary of state’s office quashed an effort to put an independent challenger on the ballot to run against state Rep. Chuck Gray, the Republican secretary of state nominee. After Sen. Cale Case challenged the secretary of state’s interpretation of a statute that requires all independent candidates to sign off on their own candidacy, the chief elections office ruled against him. Case was attempting to get former legislator Nathan Winters on the ballot as an independent, despite the fact that Winters does not want to run.
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