News You Can Use Digest - August 27, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

August 27, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – August 27, 2021


A Capitol Riot Suspect Was Hours Away from Sentencing. Then Prosecutors Received Video of an Assault on Police.
MSN – Katie Shepherd (Washington Post) | Published: 8/19/2021

Even after Robert Reeder pleaded guilty to illegally picketing inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, he remained adamant he was innocent of the worst allegations leveled against him. Prosecutors argued Reeder actively participated in chants with rioters and egged on the aggressive crowd, though they could not show he participated in any violence. They asked a federal judge to sentence him with a fine and prison time. But new video from the riot that surfaced just before his sentencing hearing appeared to show Reeder allegedly physically grappling with a police officer.

California Republican Is Debt Free for First Time in Office. What Happened to His Creditors?
Fresno Bee – Gillian Brassil (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 8/23/2021

U.S. Rep. David Valadao claimed no liabilities for 2020 – a far cry from 2019, when he said he owed at least $16 million to various creditors, some of whom he did not disclose the identities of, in connection to one of his family’s dairy farms. The farm declared bankruptcy after Valadao and his family’s farms were sued by Rabobank, a financial services company, over unpaid loans. Maria Martinez who lives in Valadao’s district, filed an ethics complaint seeking more information about the unidentified creditors from Valadao’s previous disclosure forms. The complaint says it is unlikely the unnamed creditors were each owed less than $10,000 given the limited number of people listed in the farm’s bankruptcy filings.

DOJ Investigating One-Time Trump Campaign Adviser Over Alleged Ties to Qatar: Report
MSN – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 8/24/2021

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether one-time Trump campaign adviser and lobbyist Barry Bennett set up an advocacy group without disclosing its ties to Qatar. Bennett reportedly launched a group called Yemen Crisis to embarrass Qatar’s rivals – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – amid their military campaign in Yemen. Bennett did not disclose his ties to Yemen Crisis Watch, or register the group under lobbying laws, despite receiving $250,000 from the Embassy of Qatar “for use in supporting the relief of humanitarian suffering in Yemen,” according to a Justice Department filing.

Ethics Office: Rep. Mooney tapped campaign funds for family vacations, fast food
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 8/25/2021

U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney spent thousands of campaign dollars on personal expenses, including numerous fast-food meals and family excursions to West Virginia resorts, while failing to properly report more than $40,000 in expenditures, the Office of Congressional Ethics found. Mooney’s deficient reporting to the FEC concealed additional instances of converting campaign funds for personal use, according to an OCE report. After the OCE launched the inquiry, Mooney paid his campaign back more than $12,000.

FCC Proposes Record $5 Million Fine Against Jacob Wohl, Jack Burkman for Election Robocalls
MSN – Rachel Lerman (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a $5.1 million fine against two right-wing operatives known for perpetuating conspiracy theories, in one of its largest penalties to date. Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman improperly made 1,141 election-related robocalls to cellphones without getting people’s consent first, which the law requires. The pair were charged with four felonies in Michigan last year for allegedly intimidating voters with robocalls that spread inaccurate messages about voting by mail.

Foreign Lobbyists Gave Millions to Influence 2020 Elections Amid Foreign Influence Concerns
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 8/19/2021

Individuals registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act made at least $8.5 million in political contributions during the 2020 election cycle. Another $25 million came from lobbyists representing foreign clients registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to political groups or campaigns to influence U.S. elections. But they can hire foreign agents or lobbyists to advocate for their interests and lobbyists who are American citizens are able to donate, even to the same lawmakers they may be lobbying on behalf of foreign clients.

House Passes Bill to Strengthen Voting Rights Act in Face of New Restrictions in GOP-Led States
MSN – Eugene Scott (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

The U.S. House passed legislation that supporters said would restore key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. In Shelby County v. Holder, the high court’s conservative majority ruled the law’s provision for determining voter discrimination was outdated, a decision that greatly curtailed the ability of the federal government to monitor the election processes of states with a history of racism.

Internal Probe Clears Capitol Police Officer in Shooting of Ashli Babbitt
MSN – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 8/23/2021

An internal investigation has cleared a U.S. Capitol Police officer of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt during the siege of the Capitol on January 6. The Justice Department previously announced the officer would not face criminal charges in the killing of the 35-year-old California woman, who was shot as she tried to force her way through a set of doors deep inside the Capitol.

Jan. 6 Select Committee Probe Expands to Trump and Top Officials in a Wave of Demands
National Public Radio – Claudia Grisales | Published: 8/25/2021

The House select committee charged with investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has issued a wave of record requests targeting communications by former President Trump and his top officials in the lead-up to the riot. It marks the most widespread list of demands since the siege, directing letters to eight federal entities, including the National Archives and Records Administration, which is charged with maintaining records for past White House administrations. The demands could be followed by subpoenas.

From the States and Municipalities

Colorado Ethics Commission Dismissed Complaint Against Delta County Official but Decision Is on Appeal
Denver Gazette – Marianne Goodland | Published: 8/23/2021

The Colorado Independent Ethics commission, on a tie vote, dismissed a complaint against Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValley. The complaint alleged LeValley violated the public trust by using her position to benefit her family’s business, a beef ranch. LeValley charged several purchases from Homestead Meats in 2019, which she co-owns with several other partners, for county events on her county credit card. The events in question, both tied to the county fair, required the beef being served to come from a Delta County ranch, and for that, Homestead was the only supplier.

Colorado Incumbent Colorado Lawmaker Coached Public Testimony for Redistricting Hearings
Colorado Springs Gazette – Evan Wyloge | Published: 8/19/2021

A state lawmaker looking to protect the fortunes of his Republican caucus as Colorado’s political maps are redrawn this year held a video training earlier this summer to coach people on how to provide testimony intended to keep the incumbent legislators in power after the redistricting cycle. On the video training, Rep. Matt Soper lamented that the independent redistricting commission system is designed to elicit input from non-political, everyday people talking about their communities, and not from incumbent lawmakers who want to keep a safe seat for themselves.

Florida Florida Elections Commission Gearing Up for Looming Challenges
Yahoo News – John Haughey (The Center Square) | Published: 8/24/2021

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed three members to the Florida Elections Commission (FEC), including a chairperson, meaning the watchdog now has the required quorum and can meet for the first time since May. The FEC is managing the defense of state election laws, including Florida’s decision not to appeal an injunction preventing Senate Bill 1890 from being enacted. It is also dealing with the challenge to Florida’s 2019 felon voting law now before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Florida No-Party Candidate in Miami Election Fraud Case Takes Plea Deal, Apologizes to Voters
MSN – Samantha Gross (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/24/2021

An auto parts salesperson and acquaintance of a former state lawmaker accused of running a vote-siphoning scheme in a 2020 Florida Senate race pleaded guilty to charges he accepted illegal donations and lied on sworn campaign documents, among other things. Alexis Rodriguez was recruited to run as a no-party candidate in the key Senate race by former state Sen. Frank Artiles. The point of Rodriguez’s candidacy, investigators said, was to “confuse voters and siphon votes from the incumbent.” Sen. Ileana Garcia won the election by 32 votes. Rodriguez, who shares a surname with the incumbent Democrat, received more than 6,000 votes.

Georgia Former NFL Player Herschel Walker, Supported by Trump, Jumps into the Georgia Senate Race
Santa Fe New Mexican – Maryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

Former football star Herschel Walker filed paperwork to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, challenging Raphael Warnock with the backing of former President Trump. After former U.S. Sen. David Perdue said he would not run again, Walker would be the most recognized candidate in the Republican field.

Georgia How the Apple Lobbying Machine Took on Georgia, and Won
MSN – Emily Birnbaum (Politico) | Published: 8/20/2021

Apple’s aggressive lobbying efforts in Georgia highlight a pattern that has played out with little national attention across the country this year: state lawmakers introduce bills that would force Apple and Google to give up some control over their mobile phone app stores. Then Apple exerts pressure on lawmakers with promises of economic investment or threats to pull its money, and the legislation stalls. Local lawmakers have struggled to brush aside Apple’s lobbying firepower as the company hires key state lobbyists and focuses on defeating legislation that threatens the company’s bottom line.

Idaho Idaho Supreme Court Overturns Tougher Ballot Initiative Law
MSN – Rebecca Boone (Associated Press) | Published: 8/23/2021

The Idaho Supreme Court struck down a new law designed to make it harder for voters to get initiatives on the ballot, saying the legislation was so restrictive it violated a fundamental right under the state’s constitution. Opponents of the law said it made Idaho’s initiative process the toughest in the nation, rendering such efforts virtually impossible to achieve. But supporters said the law would protect people with less popular political opinions from being overrun by the majority.

Illinois ComEd Scheme to Influence Madigan Was Not Legal Lobbying – It Was Bribery, Prosecutors Say
MSN – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 8/24/2021

An alleged scheme to lavish benefits on longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for his influence on Commonwealth Edison legislation in Springfield clearly meets the criteria of the bribery statute even if there was no explicit agreement between the parties, federal prosecutors argued in a motion. Lawyers for Michael McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker, and Jay Doherty asked a District Court judge to dismiss several of the key elements of the case against them, arguing there was no quid pro quo agreement and jobs, contracts, and other payments to chosen Madigan political operatives constituted legal lobbying.

Illinois Cryptocurrency Expands into Illinois Politics as Candidate Accepts Bitcoin Donations
Bloomington Pantagraph – John Kielman (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 8/25/2021

Lake County Treasurer Holly Kim, who is running for reelection next year, became the first candidate in Illinois to accept digital currency when a supporter gave her a three-dollar donation in Litecoin, with the promise of more to come later. It is a new and potentially lucrative fundraising technique – Dogecoin, one form of crypto Kim accepts, has seen its value increase 100-fold over the past year – and Kim said it is a way to connect with tech-savvy people who might be new to political donations.

Maine PAC Opposing Powerline Corridor is Fined $2,500 for Late Filing
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 8/23/2021

A PAC bankrolled by two Texas energy companies was fined $2,500 by the Maine ethics commission for violating state campaign finance law. The commission voted unanimously to impose the penalty against Mainers for Local Power after it failed to notify one of its major contributors, the energy company Calpine, that it had donated more than $100,000 to the PAC and was required to file a major donor report with the ethics panel.

Maryland Error-Riddled Ethics Reports on School Board Create Political Firestorm in Prince George’s County
MSN – Rachel Chason and Donna St. George (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

Ethics reports accuse a majority of the elected school board members in Prince George’s County of a variety of offenses, including steering contracts, doing political favors, and engaging in a quid pro quo with a labor union. The allegations are being levied against a more progressive bloc that has frequently clashed with the county’s political establishment, setting off a political battle in the suburb of Washington, D.C. The back-and-forth is the latest, and most contentious, episode in months of chaos that began in February.

Michigan FBI Raids Detroit’s City Hall, Council Members’ Homes as It Focuses on Towing Operations
Detroit News – Robert Snell, Sarah Rahal, and George Hunter | Published: 8/25/2021

A widening public corruption investigation emerged as FBI agents raided Detroit City Hall and the homes of city council members Janeé Ayers and Scott Benson, the latest development in a scandal that has led to charges against Councilperson André Spivey. The full scope of the investigation was unclear, but FBI agents were focused on municipal towing operations and accusations city officials received bribes, according to sources. Agents also searched the homes of several council employees, including Ricardo Silva and Carol Banks, chiefs of staff for Ayers and Benson, respectively.

Michigan Federal Judge in Michigan Orders Pro-Trump Lawyers Disciplined Over Lawsuit Seeking to Overturn 2020 Election
MSN – Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 8/25/2021

A judge sanctioned Sidney Powell and other lawyers who sued in Michigan to overturn President Biden’s election victory. U.S. District Court Judge Parker said the lawyers made assertions in court that were not backed by evidence and failed to perform the due diligence required by legal rules before alleging mass fraud in the state’s vote. She referred the group to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as disciplinary committees in the states where each attorney is licensed, which could initiate proceedings that could result in the lawyers being disbarred.

Michigan Michigan Attorney General Nessel Won’t Charge State GOP Chair Ron Weiser
Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 8/23/2021

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel declined to pursue criminal action against state Republican Party Chairperson Ron Weiser related to payments Weiser allegedly made to a former GOP secretary of state candidate to drop out of the race in 2018. Nessel said a conciliation agreement between the secretary of state’s office and the Michigan GOP barred further criminal litigation under the state’s campaign finance law and Weiser, as chairperson, is not a public officer as defined by the law, so other criminal statutes “simply do not apply.”

Minnesota Minnesota GOP ‘in Ruins’ After Shocking Scandal
Yahoo News – David Siders and Paul Zemko (Politico) | Published: 8/21/2021

The resignation of the Minnesota Republican Party’s embattled chairperson, Jennifer Carnahan, marked a new low for a state party in decline. The proximate cause of Carnahan’s departure was a firestorm that engulfed the party in recent days, after a GOP donor she was close to was indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges. Carnahan, the wife of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, was accused by party officials and former staffers of running a toxic, retaliatory workplace, mismanaging party finances, and, through the use of non-disclosure agreements, squashing transparency.

New York As JCOPE Eyes Cuomo, Will His Appointees Remain?
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/30/2021

Though Andrew Cuomo has left the governor’s office, his legal troubles are far from over. He faces criminal investigations into possible inappropriate touching of women, a state attorney general probe into his $5.1 million book deal, a federal probe into the suppression of nursing home death data, and a forthcoming Assembly report on those matters and more. An entity that has been generally pliant to Cuomo since its creation in 2011, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, may be more prone to taking action now, especially since the commission itself now faces greater threat of being eliminated by critics, who say it has been ineffectual.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Daughter-in-Law Is Top Lobbyist at Pharma Firm That Has Sought to Influence NY Lawmakers
CNBC – Brian Schwartz | Published: 8/24/2021

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s daughter-in-law is a top lobbyist at a pharmaceutical firm that has been trying to influence state and federal lawmakers. Christina Hochul is director of federal policy at Biogen. A Biogen spokesperson said Christina Hochul does not lobby at the New York state level and will not do so. Biogen did not rule out the company itself engaging with New York lawmakers while Kathy Hochul is governor.

New York JCOPE’s Opaque New Transparency Policy
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/24/2021

Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for a complete overhaul of New York’s ethics oversight system. And as the state’s much-maligned current ethics watchdog faces the possibility of dissolution, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) recently announced a reform: a new policy that in principle could make its work less secretive. But in practice, the policy so far has been aimed at bolstering the reputation of the JCOPE itself, with information released or withheld based on that as opposed to overall transparency.

New York Leaders of the ‘Time’s Up’ Anti-Harassment Group Worked Closely with Cuomo Aide After First Accusation Against Him Surfaced
MSN – Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 8/25/2021

The leaders of Time’s Up, the advocacy group founded by political insiders in Washington and Hollywood to fight workplace sexual misconduct, decided against issuing a statement in support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first harassment accuser in December after consulting with the governor’s top aide, according to interviews and records. Text messages between five senior Time’s Up advisers revealed a far more extensive behind-the-scenes effort to work with Cuomo’s office amid the sexual harassment charges than the group has previously acknowledged.

North Carolina Cooper Signs Bill Allowing Officials to Benefit More from Public Contracts
Yahoo News – Nyamekye Daniel (The Center Square) | Published: 8/24/2021

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill that allows public officials to benefit more from public contracts. House Bill 366 raises the limit on the conflict-of-interest exemption for government officials and government employees in certain instances and changes regulations related to agriculture, energy, environment, natural resources, construction, and insurance.

North Carolina Court Rules North Carolina Must Allow Former Felons to Vote
MSN – Paulina Villegas (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

A panel of the state Superior Court ordered the restoration of voting rights for thousands of people with a felony conviction in what advocates call the largest expansion of voting rights in decades in North Carolina. The ruling could make North Carolina the only state in the South to automatically restore voting rights to people after they leave prison. Last year, the same judges had ruled the law’s requirement that felons must first pay monetary obligation such as fines was unenforceable because voting would be bound to financial ability.

North Carolina Restrictions on NC Nonprofit Donor Disclosures OK’d by House
WRAL – Associated Press | Published: 8/19/2021

A bill described by supporters as one that prevents snooping into citizens’ contributions to North Carolina charities neared final legislative approval following an affirmative state House vote. A version cleared the Senate three months ago. The bill says the names of donors to North Carolina-based nonprofits cannot be disclosed publicly by the group without a donor’s written permission. It also states a donor’s identifying information is not a public record when held by a state or local government agency. A government worker who uses or discloses it could be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Ohio FirstEnergy Discloses 2021 Dark Money Spending; Deal Doesn’t Require Posting Past Donations
MSN – Jessie Balmert (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 8/20/2021

The utility at the center of a $60 million bribery scheme in Ohio dramatically decreased the funds it provides to “dark money” groups to influence public policy, according to a filing required by a deal with federal prosecutors that allowed FirstEnergy to avoid a criminal case. FirstEnergy paid $2.2 million to nonprofits and groups benefitting public officials during the first half of 2021. That is considerably below the approximately $60 million the company paid between 2017 and 2020 to “dark money” groups to fund a bailout of two nuclear power plants.

Oregon Portland Police Stand by as Proud Boys and Far-Right Militias Flash Guns and Brawl with Antifa Counterprotesters
MSN – Katie Shepherd (Washington Post) | Published: 8/23/2021

A large crowd of more than 100 far-right activists, including Proud Boys and armed militia members, descended on Portland, Oregon, staging a “Back the Blue” rally in front of the Justice Center that houses the downtown police precinct. Hundreds of Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters gathered to oppose the far-right crowd. The two groups sparred for more than two hours, as people exchanged blows, fired paintballs at each other, and blasted chemicals indiscriminately into the crowd. People lobbed fireworks back and forth.

Pennsylvania In Latest Bow to Trump, GOP Lawmakers in Pennsylvania Plan to Launch Hearings on 2020 Vote
MSN – Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 8/24/2021

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania plan to formally launch hearings as part of an investigation into the 2020 vote in the state, the latest GOP-backed effort to revisit an election that former President Trump has falsely claimed was fraudulent. State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said lawmakers are pursuing a “full forensic investigation” of the election that will aim to examine ballots and voter rolls. It is the latest sign of how Republican leaders in key battleground states are bowing to pressure from Trump and his acolytes to investigate baseless allegations that voting irregularities tainted the November election.

Texas Dallas Council Member Violated Ethics Code for Saying Woman Sounded ‘Foolish’ on Facebook
Dallas Morning News – Lauren Girgis | Published: 8/20/2021

The Ethics Advisory Commission found Dallas City Councilperson Adam Bazaldua in violation of the ethics code for Facebook comments where he wrote that a constituent sounded “foolish.” The commission found Bazaldua violated a section of the code stating that city officials shall not make comments or take actions that are “abusive,” “derogatory,” “rude,” or make “personal attacks upon the character, integrity, or motives of others.”

Texas Texas Republicans Renew Effort to Advance Voting Bill as Democrats Regroup
MSN – Jane Timm (NBC News) | Published: 8/23/2021

The Texas House could pass voting restrictions soon after Democrats’ efforts to stave off the Republican-backed changes were stymied by three Democrats who broke ranks with much of the rest of their caucus and returned to work at the Capitol. Their return restored a quorum for the first time since more than 50 House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C. The coordinated escape from Austin left Texas Republicans furious, creating wanted posters and threatening to have missing members arrested.

Virginia Ex-Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe Found Guilty on All Public Corruption Charges
WAVY – Brian Reese, Jason Marks, and Sarah Fearing | Published: 8/24/2021

Former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe was found guilty on all 11 counts in a federal bribery trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison for each count. McCabe was accused of taking bribes from two Norfolk jail vendors and the companies’ chief executive officers. McCabe had argued the gifts and campaign donations, which happened from 1994 to 2016, were just gestures between good friends.

Virginia Virginia, an ‘Outlier’ on Campaign Finance Reform, Considers New Restrictions
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Andrew Cain (Richmond Times-Dispatch) | Published: 8/24/2021

The Virginia Legislature has tasked the Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform with examining the costs of campaigning in the state, the effectiveness of  the present disclosure laws and their enforcement, the constitutional options available to regulate campaign finances, and “the desirability” of revisions such as implementing contribution limits. In submitting a report by November 1, the panel could recommend proposed changes for the new governor and Legislature to review during the 60-day session that begins in January.

Washington Mayor’s Office Knew for Months Durkan’s Phone Setting Caused Texts to Vanish, Emails Show
Seattle Times – Lewis Kamb, Daniel Beekman, and Jim Brunner | Published: 8/20/2021

When the public learned in May that 10 months of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s text messages were missing, her office initially attributed the loss to an “unknown technology issue” with one of three phones she used during the period in question. But officials already had known for months why the texts were gone and when they disappeared, internal emails appear to show. City Attorney Pete Holmes says the initial explanation from Durkan’s office was misleading.

Wisconsin Two More Redistricting Lawsuits Have Been Filed in Wisconsin as Conservatives and Liberals Mount a Legal Battle Over Election Maps
MSN – Patrick Marley (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 8/23/2021

Voters filed two redistricting lawsuits as conservatives and liberals fight over whether state or federal judges should be the ones to decide how to draw Wisconsin’s congressional and legislative districts. Voters represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed one of the lawsuits before the state Supreme Court. Hours later, three voting rights groups brought their own case in federal court in Madison. Republicans who control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are not expected to reach a deal on the maps, which will leave it to the courts to decide where to put the lines.

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