August 4, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 4, 2023
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Spencer Hsu, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 7/28/2023
Carlos De Oliveira was indicted along with Donald Trump and Walt Nauta, all three accused of seeking to delete security footage at Mar-a-Lago that the Justice Department was requesting as part of its classified documents investigation. De Oliveira’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, and later statements to federal investigators, shows how the longtime Trump employee has become a key figure in the investigation, one whose alleged actions could bolster the obstruction case against the former president.
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 7/29/2023
Former President Trump’s political group spent more than $40 million on legal costs in the first half of 2023 to defend Trump, his advisers, and others, financing legal work that has drawn scrutiny from prosecutors about potential conflicts-of-interest between Trump and witnesses. While interviewing potential witnesses associated with Trump, prosecutors have raised pointed questions about who is paying for their lawyers and why.
MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 8/1/2023
Haunted by a sense that the news is relentlessly toxic, once-loyal readers and viewers have been gradually ebbing away, posing a persistent threat to the news business. Researchers say “news avoidance” could be a response to an age of hyper-information. Digital media has made news ubiquitous and instantly available from thousands of sources representing every ideology, geography, and language. Much of it, people say, drives feelings of depression, anger, anxiety, or helplessness.
MSN – Caroline Anders (Washington Post) | Published: 7/29/2023
A federal judge dismissed Donald Trump’s lawsuit against CNN, in which the former president said the network defamed him by associating him with Adolf Hitler. Trump argued by using the phrase the “big lie” in reference to his unfounded claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, the network created an unfair association between him and the Nazi regime. Hitler and Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels used the term as a propaganda tool that involved repeating a falsehood until the public started to believe it.
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Spencer Hsu, Perry Stein, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 8/1/2023
A grand jury indicted former President Trump for a raft of alleged crimes in his brazen efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory, the latest legal and political aftershock stemming from the riot at the U.S. Capitol. The charges represent the third indictment of the former president filed since March, setting the stage for one of the stranger presidential contests in history, in which a major-party front-runner may have to alternate between campaign stops and courtroom hearings over the next year.
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 8/1/2023
When Donald Trump was indicted and accused of trying to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election, he found himself in the unenviable company of defendants charged under a criminal statute dating to the Reconstruction era. The statute, Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, was originally adopted as part of the Enforcement Act of 1870. It was the first in a series of measures known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts designed to protect rights guaranteed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.
MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 8/2/2023
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. started a flurry of conversation among judicial and congressional experts when he expressed a self-proclaimed “controversial view” that Congress does not have “the authority to regulate the Supreme Court – period.” Those experts generally agree that such a broad comment on its face is not correct, since Congress does have authority to regulate the court’s docket, budget, and even how many justices there are. But the specifics get trickier when it comes to whether Congress has the authority to pass a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, which congressional Democrats have pushed for this year.
MSN – Mike McIntire (New York Times) | Published: 7/30/2023
Long before the National Rifle Association (NRA) tightened its grip on Congress and won over the Supreme Court, U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr. had a plan. It would transform the NRA from an outdated club of sportsmen into a lobbying juggernaut that would enforce elected officials’ allegiance, derail legislation behind the scenes, and redefine the legal landscape. Dingell was one of at least nine senators and representatives who served as leaders of the NRA, often prodding it to action. At seemingly every hint of a legislative threat, they stepped up, documents show, helping erect a firewall that impedes gun control today.
Seattle Times – Rebecca Davis O’Brien, and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 7/28/2023
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott has more campaign money than most of his Republican presidential rivals, and he has not been shy about spending it. Where that money is ultimately going, however, is a mystery. Scott spent about $6.6 million from April through June but most of it cannot be traced to an actual vendor. Instead, roughly $5.3 million went to two shadowy entities: newly formed limited liability companies with no online presence and no record of other federal election work. Their business records show they were set up by the same person in the months before Scott entered the race.
Yahoo News – Tracey Tully (New York Times) | Published: 8/1/2023
U.S. Robert Menendez is under investigation by the Justice Department for the second time in less than a decade, and this time, his wife is also in prosecutors’ sights. The new inquiry appears to be focused at least in part on the possibility that either the senator or his wife received undisclosed gifts from a company run by a friend of Menendez, and those gifts might have been given in exchange for political favors. Unlike her husband, Nadine Menendez has lived a mainly private life.
From the States and Municipalities
CalMatters – Sameea Kamal and Jeremia Kimelman | Published: 8/3/2023
An analysis shows local governments, water districts, and transit agencies in California have spent nearly $24 million on lobbying the state this year, accounting for about 10 percent of the more than $233 million total. Not all local government agencies lobby the state, but those that do tend to want to influence policies. They also seek more money from the state budget. Some national research shows the advocacy pays off as cities that do lobby receive between seven percent and 9 percent more per person in state funding than those that do not.
California – By Several Measures, the FPPC Is Outnumbered
Capitol Weekly – Brian Joseph | Published: 8/1/2023
The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) finds violations of the Political Reform Act in a few different ways, through complaints filed with the agency by members of the public, referrals from other agencies, proactive cases agency staff see in the media, and through a limited number of audits of disclosures by staff. Ann Ravel, a former FPPC chairperson, said that in a “perfect world,” the agency would have the resources and staff to proactively review many more disclosures filed with the state.
MSN – Christopher Cadelago and Melanie Mason (Politico) | Published: 8/2/2023
A ballot initiative likely to come before California voters next year would overhaul the state’s open records law, forcing unprecedented scrutiny into lobbying activities at the Capitol, and ensuring sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers are public. Bob Stern, who co-authored the state’s political reform law in 1974, reviewed the proposed measure and pointed to support from the public in further scrutinizing lawmakers’ interactions with lobbyists as well as more information into legislative probes.
MSN – Nathan Fenno and Gabriel San Román (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 7/31/2023
An outside investigation into alleged corruption in Anaheim detailed Disneyland area resort interests improperly steering City Hall policymaking. The report noted numerous lobbyist meetings that were not reported as required and raised concerns about the close relationship between the city and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. It characterized former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s Anaheim First initiative as “nothing more than a fig leaf for potential future public corruption and the wrongful diversion of public funds.”
San Francisco Examiner – Adam Shanks | Published: 7/28/2023
San Francisco’s ethics watchdog was spared the significant reductions to its budget first proposed by Mayor London Breed. The budget agreement finalized by the board of supervisors and Breed restored $2.3 million to the commission’s funding. While the money is only a small portion of the city’s budget, supervisors and ethics panel leaders stressed the importance of its work, particularly given that 2024 is a major election year.
Broward.US – Anthony Man (South Florida Sun-Sentinel) | Published: 7/26/2023
The Fort Lauderdale commissioners who welcome Inter Miami superstar Lionel Messi are reimbursing the soccer team. The Fort Lauderdale leaders, along with elected officials from Miami-Dade County, were hosted by the team in a VIP area at DRV PNK Stadium for the event. Some were able to talk with and get pictures with the new player and team co-owner David Beckham. City Attorney D’Wayne Spence said those who attended should pay. He also cited state law requiring commissioners to report gifts worth more than $100 and a prohibition on accepting gifts from lobbyists or vendors.
Seattle Times – Sarah Mervosh (New York Times) | Published: 7/28/2023
When Florida set out to revamp its standards for teaching Black history this spring, a natural place to turn would have been the state’s African American History Task Force. The volunteer task force – a group of Black educators, Democratic politicians, and community leaders, appointed by the commissioner of education – has helped shape African American history instruction in Florida for more than two decades. But in updating educational standards to comply with a new law that limits how racism and other aspects of history can be taught, state officials largely bypassed the task force.
Yahoo News – Jeffrey Schweers (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 7/28/2023
If it had not been for a fender bender on Interstate 75 near Chattanooga, Tennessee, most folks would not know Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was using state government vehicles for his 2024 run for president. The collision draws a curtain back on the campaign’s use of state resources. But finding out who is paying for it is nearly impossible thanks to a new law passed by the Legislature to protect the governor’s travel records from public view.
Yahoo News – Jeff Burlew (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 8/3/2023
Last year, 29 individuals registered to lobby city commissioners and staff in Tallahassee. They paid their annual $25 registration fees and disclosed their clients and interests. But so far this year, only six lobbyists have signed up, marking a 77 percent year-to-date drop and an all-time low in registration numbers since the city’s lobbying ordinance was enacted in 2011. The anemic registration numbers raise questions about the effectiveness of the city’s lobbying ordinance and point to the possibility of unregistered lobbyists skirting requirements.
DNyuz – Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 7/31/2023
A Georgia judge forcefully rejected an effort by former President Trump to throw out evidence collected by a special grand jury and to remove the current prosecutor from the investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney seemed to have little patience for the arguments from Trump’ legal team and suggested Trump’ lawyers were gumming up the legal process with frivolous filings.
Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair and Patti Epler | Published: 8/2/2023
Despite a new law banning fundraising during the legislative session in Hawaii, it did not halt the flow of campaign donations to many state senators and representatives. A review of the latest campaign finance disclosures illustrates major special interests continue to give generously to lawmakers, especially those who wield a lot of power.
Yahoo News – Jason Alatidd (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 7/30/2023
A top economic development employee at the Kansas Department of Commerce bid on and won a $180,000 a year contract to consult for the agency. State officials maintain there was no conflict-of-interest in awarding the consulting contract to Paul Hughes, whose contract went into effect two weeks before he left his government job. While Hughes was still employed by the state, he formed his own company, Catapult Kansas LLC. He then bid on and was awarded a contract to consult for the Commerce Department on megaprojects.
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 7/28/2023
Often, if a person incurs a low-level violation of the state’s campaign finance or lobbying laws such as filing the required reports late, they will ask the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to waive or lower the fine associated with that offense. While some factors, such as an illness or an inability to pay the fine, almost always result in a waived or reduced fee, other times relatively similar cases see disparate outcomes. Now, the agency is taking a look at its policies to ensure it remains fair.
Maryland Daily Record – Madeleine O’Neill | Published: 7/31/2023
The onetime treasurer for a Baltimore County political slate who admitted to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds will serve six months in jail. William McCollum stole money from the Baltimore County Victory Slate and the finance committee of former Baltimore County Councilperson Cathy Bevins. He was accused of stealing funds through direct payments to pay his personal credit card bill and by depositing checks made out to the fund or to vendors into his personal bank account.
MSN – Patrick Marley and Aaron Schaffer (Washington Post) | Published: 8/1/2023
A former Michigan lawmaker and a losing candidate for state attorney general were charged with felonies as part of an investigation into the improper acquisition of voting machines. Special prosecutor D.J. Hilson has been looking into efforts by a group of conservatives to persuade election clerks to give them voting machines as they attempted to prove the 2020 presidential election had been wrongly called for Joe Biden. The group never turned up any proof, and courts in dozens of cases across the country ruled the election was properly decided.
MSN – Henry Gomez (NBC News) | Published: 8/3/2023
Tim Sheehy is running in one of the country’s most competitive U.S. Senate races while also running an aerial firefighting company that is heavily dependent on federal contracts. Bridger Aerospace has explicit rules about political contributions and activities. Employees are not permitted to engage in politics while on company time. There are also rules requiring legal reviews and approval before company funds can be spent on behalf of candidates or campaigns. Officials with Bridger and the Sheehy campaign did not directly address questions about how the candidate is complying with corporate accountability measures.
Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 7/28/2023
The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission hired a long-time staffer as its new executive director. David Hunter, who has worked for the commission since 2000, will succeed Frank Daley, who is retiring in September.
Nevada Independent – Carly Sauvageau | Published: 7/30/2023
The Nevada Commission on Ethics was thrust into the spotlight when it decided Gov. Joe Lombardo violated state ethics laws by wearing a sheriff’s badge in campaign ads and was issued a $20,000 fine – the largest ever since the commission’s creation in 1975 – as well as a censure. City councils to county commissions, public officers, and employees in the executive branch are overseen and occasionally investigated by the commission.
New Jersey – Brindle Will Retire from Top ELEC Post
New Jersey Globe – David Wildstein | Published: 7/31/2023
Jeff Brindle, the executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, will retire. Brindle’s decision comes more than five months after Gov. Phil Murphy had sought to oust Brindle from his post earlier this year over an email sent to a staffer last fall that mocked National Coming Out Day. He will leave at the end of the year. Brindle is suing Murphy and some top aides over their bid to force him out.
Yahoo News – Dan McKay (Albuquerque Journal) | Published: 8/1/2023
A PAC agreed to pay a $1,000 civil penalty and disclose its financial activity in a new report after New Mexico’s independent ethics agency accused it of violating campaign finance laws in a 2022 legislative race. The New Mexico Values PAC disclosed just $2,500 in contributions and spending. But the ethics panel said it is unlikely the PAC fully disclosed its activity.
Spectrum News – Nick Reisman | Published: 7/27/2023
Republicans in the New York General Assembly are challenging a pending limit on the amount of money state lawmakers can earn outside of their jobs as elected officials. The lawsuit seeks to strike down the $35,000 cap, set to take effect in early 2025. Lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul approved a legislative pay raise from $110,000 to $142,000 last year.
North Carolina – Inside the Party Switch that Blew Up North Carolina Politics
Seattle Times – Kate Kelly and David Perlmutt (New York Times) | Published: 7/30/2023
Rep. Tricia Cotham’s win in the November general election for the North Carolina House helped Democrats lock in enough seats to prevent, by a single vote, a Republican supermajority in the chamber. Three months after Cotham took office in January, she delivered a mortal shock to Democrats and abortion rights supporters. She switched parties and then cast a decisive vote to enact a 12-week limit on most abortions, the state’s most restrictive abortion policy in 50 years.
North Carolina – ‘Sophisticated Scam’ Nabs $50k from Stein’s Gubernatorial Campaign
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 7/31/2023
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s gubernatorial campaign was the victim of a “sophisticated scam” that cost the candidate’s operation about $50,000. A campaign finance filing, breaking down donations and expenses from the first six months of 2023, lists a $50,438.77 expense in January identified as a “fraudulent wire transfer payment.”
Yahoo News – Jazper Lu (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 7/30/2023
Some North Carolina lawmakers attended the 50th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The politically conservative organization regularly convenes state legislators from around the U.S., mostly Republicans, with private sector representatives to write and publish “model bills,” draft legislation that can then be used by anyone. Historically, some North Carolina policies have gone on to form the building blocks for ALEC model legislation. Several of the state’s lawmakers have served in top ALEC leadership positions.
Missouri Independent – Zachary Roth and Morgan Trau | Published: 8/2/2023
Ohioans over the last century have used the state’s ballot initiative process to pass constitutional amendments that raised the minimum wage, integrated the National Guard, and removed the phrase “white male” from the constitution’s list of voter eligibility requirements. Now, lawmakers want to make it much tougher for an initiative to be approved. Opponents of the effort, who are leading in the polls, say doing so would undermine democracy. Whoever prevails, the verdict could reverberate far beyond the Buckeye State, as other states eye limits on ballot initiatives.
Yahoo News – Zach Schonfeld (The Hill) | Published: 8/1/2023
A state judge in Pennsylvania ruled an election worker cannot sue former President Trump over statements he made sowing doubt in the 2020 election results while in office, finding the statements are protected by presidential immunity. Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Erdos said Trump was immune for a tweet he issued and comments he made remotely from the White House during a Pennsylvania Senate committee hearing. The statements, made without evidence, claimed fraud in Pennsylvania’s election count.
MSN – Dylan McGuinness (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 8/2/2023
A dozen candidates running for elected positions in Houston failed to file required campaign finance reports in July, continuing a sloppy reporting period for the slate of candidates hoping to lead the city. The omissions account for nearly one in five of candidates running in the November elections, after about 25 percent failed to file the mandatory reports in January as well. Top mayoral contenders also had to refund contributions from those who exceeded the city’s cap and from prohibited city contractors.
MSN – Dylan Baddour (Inside Climate News) | Published: 8/1/2023
When an oil company sought pollution permits in Texas to expand its export terminal beside Lavaca Bay, a coalition produced an analysis alleging the company, Max Midstream, underrepresented expected emissions to avoid a more rigorous permitting process and stricter pollution control requirements. In response, Max Midstream claimed the groups and citizens involved had no right to bring forth a challenge because they lived more than one mile from the Seahawk Oil Terminal. But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the one-mile test cited by the company’s lawyers does not exist.
MSN – Kai Uyehara (Kitsap Sun) | Published: 7/28/2023
Washington Rep. Tarra Simmons was cited by a state legislative ethics board for accepting pay for speaking at Vanderbilt University about her experience as an incarcerated woman, an inspiring personal history that has been widely documented but ran afoul of rules when it was entwined with Simmons’ role as an elected official. Simmons said she was unaware of the state rules before accepting $1,000 for a 2021 speech. She was ordered to return the money and fined $250, which was waived by the state ethics board.
ABC News – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 8/2/2023
A lawsuit asks Wisconsin’s newly liberal-controlled state Supreme Court to throw out Republican-drawn legislative maps as unconstitutional, the latest legal challenge of many nationwide that could upset political boundary lines before the 2024 election. The lawsuit asks that all 132 state lawmakers be up for election that year in newly drawn districts. In Senate districts that are midway through a four-year term in 2024, there would be a special election with the winner serving two years. Then the regular four-year cycle would resume in 2026.
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