News You Can Use Digest - December 1, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

December 1, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 1, 2023


Antagonisms Flare as Red States Try to Dictate How Blue Cities Are Run

MSN – Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Washington Post) | Published: 11/27/2023

Despite long advocating small government and local control, Republican governors and legislators across a significant swath of the country are increasingly overriding the actions of Democratic cities – removing elected district attorneys or threatening to strip them of power, taking over election offices, and otherwise limiting local independence. The antagonisms between red states and blue cities are all the more notable because the urban areas in the crosshairs are mostly majority-minority, with many mayors and district attorneys of color.

Donations to GOP Drop as Worries Mount About the Party’s Finances

MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 11/27/2023

The Republican Party’s finances are increasingly worrisome to party members, advisers to former President Trump, and other operatives involved in the 2024 election effort. The Republican National Committee (RNC) disclosed it had $9.1 million in cash on hand as of October 30, the lowest amount for the RNC in any FEC report since February 2015. Donors have not cut as many large checks to the RNC in recent years, and the party’s small-dollar program has also suffered, according to people familiar with the party’s finances.

Trump Lawyers Seek to Probe U.S. Handling of 2020 Election Fraud Claims

MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 11/28/2023

Attorneys for Donald Trump asked a federal judge to allow them to investigate several U.S. government agencies about their handling of investigations into him and allegations of voter fraud three years ago as the former president moves to defend himself from charges that he criminally conspired to subvert the results of the 2020 election. His demands in the historic prosecution are wide-ranging. Trump’s lawyers argued for broad leeway to compel special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution team to turn over vast swaths of information.

‘Shrugged Off and Ignored’: Lawmakers disagree on how to ease pain of election churn

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 11/30/2023

Constituent casework is a basic function of any congressional office. But in North Carolina, U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards’ predecessor, embattled former Rep. Madison Cawthorn, declined to give him access to any constituent case files after Edwards beat him in a closely fought primary. The situation exposed a long-standing problem of rocky transitions, with constituents caught in the middle, and lawmakers have not agreed on how to fix it.

Details of Scott Perry’s Role in Trump Efforts to Stay in Power Unsealed

MSN – Rachel Weiner, Spencer Hsu, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 11/30/2023

A batch of communications was released in the case of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, which has heard litigation over special counsel Jack Smith’s effort to access the communications stored on Perry’s cell phone. The court partially blocked Smith’s effort in a ruling that relied on the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause. Later, the documents appeared to have been removed from the court’s public docket, suggesting it may have been posted inadvertently.

Johnson’s Release of Jan. 6 Video Feeds Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories

Seattle Times – Luke Broadwater, Alan Feuer, and Angelo Fichera (New York Times) | Published: 11/23/2023

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to publicly release thousands of hours of Capitol security footage from January 6, 2021, has fueled a renewed effort by Republican lawmakers and far-right activists to rewrite the history of the attack that day and exonerate the pro-Trump rioters who took part. For Johnson, beginning to release about 40,000 hours of video footage fulfilled a promise he made to hard-right lawmakers to win their support for the speakership.

He Doesn’t Report Having Checking or Savings. So Where Did Andy Ogles Get $320,000 for His Campaign?

WTVF – Phil Williams | Published: 11/29/2023

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles reported he loaned his campaign $320,000 during the 2022 election. The FEC report raised eyebrows among some because he had never been seen as a person of great wealth. A media investigation shows Ogles has not disclosed any substantial investments. He does not report having a savings account. From the beginning of his campaign for Congress, Ogles was dogged by questions about his fundraising claims.

Members of Congress Head for the Exits, Many Citing Dysfunction

Yahoo News – Kayla Guo (New York Times) | Published: 11/26/2023

More than three dozen members of Congress have announced they will not seek re-election next year, some to pursue other offices and many others simply to get out of Washington. The wave of lawmakers across chambers and parties comes at a time of dysfunction on Capitol Hill, primarily instigated by House Republicans. The chaos has Republicans increasingly worried they could lose their slim House majority next year, a concern that typically prompts a rash of retirements from the party in control. But it is not only GOP lawmakers who are opting to leave.

For Election Workers, Fentanyl-Laced Letters Signal a Challenging Year

Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 11/22/2023

For the people who run elections at thousands of local offices nationwide, 2024 was never going to be an easy year. But the recent anonymous mailing of powder-filled envelopes to election offices in five states offers new hints of how hard it could be. The letters are an indicator of what some officials say is a fresh rise in threats to their safety and the functioning of the election system. They presage the pressure-cooker environment that election officials will face next year in a contest for the White House that could chart the future course of American democracy.

Could Abortion Rights Rescue Red-State Democrats in the Senate?

Yahoo News – Michael Bender and Anjali Huynh (New York Times) | Published: 11/29/2023

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights have become an invaluable political asset for Democrats. They have leveraged the issue to hold onto control of the Senate, limit losses in the House, and fuel victories in key state races in the Midwest and the South. But perhaps the toughest test for the issue’s power will come in U.S. Senate contests like Sherrod Brown’s in Ohio and Jon Tester’s in Montana. The fate of the thin Democratic majority in the chamber could well be sealed in those two places, by the same voters who have installed Republicans in every other statewide office.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – Legislative Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaints Against Alaska Lawmakers

Anchorage Daily News – Iris Samuels | Published: 11/29/2023

The Legislative Ethics Committee dismissed complaints against sitting and former Alaska lawmakers who were accused of allowing “an unregistered lobbyist” for an anti-abortion organization to use their Capitol offices as a “base of operations.” The complaints allege Rep. David Eastman and former Rep. Christopher Kurka allowed Pat Martin, head of Alaska Right to Life, to use their offices for several hours when Martin traveled from Wasilla to the state Capitol “with the stated intent to distribute signed petitions to the Legislature.”

Arizona – This Ballot Measure Could Change the Election Game. But Will the Result Be the Same?

MSN – Mary Jo Pitzl (Arizona Republic) | Published: 11/29/2023

A proposed ballot measure would eliminate Arizona’s partisan primary system and replace it with a system in which every voter can vote in every election, regardless of party affiliation or lack of affiliation. Sarah Smallhouse, a supporter of the reform, said the idea is to appeal to independents, the state’s largest voting bloc. Despite their numbers, Smallhouse said independents cannot vote in primaries unless they take the extra step of requesting a partisan ballot.

Arizona – Arizona Officials Charged with Allegedly Conspiring to Delay Midterm Election Outcome

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 11/29/2023

Two Republican members of a county election board in southern Arizona were indicted by a state grand jury. Cochise County Supervisors Peggy Judd and Terry Crosby are charged with interference with an election officer and conspiracy. The indictment alleges the two knowingly interfered with the secretary of state’s ability to finish the statewide canvass for the election by delaying a vote to formally accept their county’s votes during the time period required by state law.

Arizona – Supreme Court Rejects Arizona GOP Leaders’ Effort to Avoid Deposition in Voting Rights Suit

MSN – Ray Stern (Arizona Republic) | Published: 11/27/2023

Arizona legislative leaders will submit to depositions in a lawsuit over two voting rights laws after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their application for an emergency stay. Senate President Warren Petersen and Speaker Ben Toma both said they would comply. The plaintiffs want to find out if Republican lawmakers created the bills with discriminatory intent.

California – Top OC Official Helped Direct Millions to His Daughter’s Center Without Disclosing Family Connection

LAist – Nick Gerda | Published: 11/22/2023

Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do has voted to fund millions of dollars to an organization led by his daughter without publicly disclosing his close family connection. Do voted twice to award contracts that included subcontracts to Warner Wellness Center, his daughter Rhiannon Do’s group. During public discussion of one of those votes, Andrew Do said he had two years of conversations with the top county health official leading up to the vote. Both of Councilperson Do’s votes to fund the subcontracts happened with no public mention his daughter was working as Warner Wellness’s president.

California – Family Vacations, Fancy Clothes and a Cigar Humidor: How an O.C. politician got fined for abusing campaign funds

MSN – Faith Pinho (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 11/24/2023

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) fined former Assemblyperson William Brough $100,000 for using campaign funds to cover myriad personal costs, including family vacations, his children’s cellphone bills, and $2,400 worth of clothing, in violation of state law. Brough used a total of $17,303 in campaign funds for personal expenses and failed multiple record-keeping requirements, even as his campaign treasurer warned him about violations, according to the FPPC.

California – Disney’s Representative Could Soon be Considered a Lobbyist at Anaheim City Hall

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 11/29/2023

The Anaheim City Council agreed to enhance the city’s lobbying laws for the second time in just over a year. The ordinance expands the definition of lobbying and who needs to register to include both outside lobbyists and those employed directly by the company they are advocating for. A second council vote is needed for the ordinance to take effect. The move comes after investigators said FBI agents concluded in sworn affidavits that City Hall is essentially controlled by lobbyists and Disneyland resort interests.

Colorado – Colorado Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal of Ruling That Trump Can Stay on Ballot Despite Insurrection

MSN – Nicholas Riccardi (Associated Press) | Published: 11/21/2023

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from both a liberal group that sought to disqualify Donald Trump and the former president himself after a state judge ruled Trump “engaged in insurrection” on January 6, 2021, but can still appear on the state’s ballot. The ruling by District Court Judge Sarah Wallace, which said Trump is not covered by the Constitution’s ban on insurrectionists holding office, was the latest in a series of defeats for the effort to end Trump’s candidates with Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Delaware – Why Delaware Elections Commissioners Rarely Enforce Campaign Finance Laws

Yahoo News – Amanda Fries (Delaware News Journal) | Published: 11/27/2023

Delaware elections officials have the authority to investigate campaign finance violations, but that oversight has never been used. Election officials can investigate campaigns for compliance with state laws regarding campaign expenditures and donations. Yet, elections officials say they have no records of probes conducted under this authority.

Florida – Mayor Suarez Faces Ethics Complaint Over Presidential Campaign Costs Billed to City

Miami New Times – Naomi Feinstein and Alex DeLuca | Published: 11/22/2023

In a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics, activist Thomas Kennedy accuses Miami Mayor Francis Suarez of violating the law by spending taxpayer funds on personal security during his bid for president. The complaint cites records that showed Miami Police Department officers traveled on the campaign trail with Suarez and billed the city more than $20,000 for their hotels, transportation, and meal expenses.

Illinois – Democratic PAC Shifts Cash Out of Its Account as It Gets Hit with One of the Biggest State Election Board Fines Ever

MSN – Rick Pearson and Jeremy Gorner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 11/21/2023

The State Board of Elections issued $99,500 in fines against the All for Justice PAC. The move followed a report by The Chicago Tribune on the PAC’s reporting deficiencies as it spent more than $7.3 million on independent expenditures supporting Justices Elizabeth Rochford and Mary Kay O/Brien, both of whom won their campaigns and increased the Illinois Supreme Court’s Democratic majority. The PAC had been given 30 days to appeal or seek a reduction in the fines but it transferred its remaining cash balance of $149,516 to another independent expenditure committee that has been dormant since July 2019.

Illinois – Former GOP Senator, Third-Party Governor Candidate to Represent Himself in Corruption Trial

NPR Illinois – Hannah Meisel (Capital News Illinois) | Published: 11/28/2023

On what was supposed to have been the first day of the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Sen. Sam McCann for allegedly misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, McCann presented a pair of last-minute motions to represent himself, which delayed the trial for at least the 13th time. He allegedly used some of the money to pay his mortgage, buy personal vehicles, and even pay himself.

Illinois – Ethics Board Urges Chicago City Council to Tighten Rules to Stop Campaign Cash Pleas to City Employees

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 11/27/2023

Chicago’s ethics ordinance should be tightened to apply to political fundraising committees to prevent future city officials from escaping sanctions for violations, including sending emails to city employees at their official email addresses asking them to send cash to their campaigns, the Board of Ethics urged the city council. The recommendation followed the board’s dismissal of a complaint prompted by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s determination that former Mayor Lori Lightfoot violated the ethics code by sending pleas for cash to city employees.

Indiana – Former Indiana Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Casino Corruption Charge

MSN – Isabella Volmert (Associated Press) | Published: 11/28/2023

A former Indiana lawmaker pleaded guilty to supporting a bill favoring a casino in exchange for promises of lucrative employment. According to prosecutors, ex-Rep. Sean Eberhart, a member of the committee that oversees casinos and gaming in the state, used his position to successfully advocate for the relocation of two casinos and to obtain other favorable terms for the company, including tax incentives. In exchange, they said, Eberhart accepted the promise of future employment, which included annual compensation of at least $350,000.

Indiana – Indiana Gunmaker That Offered GOP Lawmakers Discounted Rifles Is Fined After Investigation

MSN – Kayla Dwyer (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 11/30/2023

The Indiana Lobby Registration Commission fined a gunmaker and ordered the company to register. A complaint said Fostech made a flyer available to some lawmakers advertising an “Indiana legislator rifle” at half the suggested retail price. The offer came during a session in which the company also testified in opposition to a major piece of gun legislation. Common Cause Indiana Executive Director Julia Vaughn’s complaint argued Fostech’s actions appeared to fit the definition of lobbying and should have been reported publicly as such.

Iowa – GOP Official’s Wife Convicted in Months-Long 2020 Voter-Fraud Scheme

MSN – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 11/23/2023

As Tam and Thien Doan tried to obtain absentee ballots in Iowa in 2020, they were surprised to find out that votes had already been cast in their names. The siblings, both Democrats, were even more astonished to learn their ballots had been cast in support of Republican candidates only. Unbeknownst to the Doans, they were among a group of Vietnamese immigrants targeted in a months-long voter-fraud scheme by the wife of a Republican county supervisor who wanted her husband to win “by any means necessary” in the 2020 primary and general elections, according to prosecutors. Kim Phuong Taylor was convicted of 52 counts of voter fraud.

Kentucky – Top Metro Council Republican Will Face Removal Proceedings Over Ethics Charges

Louisville Public Media – Roberto Roldan | Published: 11/28/2023

Five Louisville Metro Council members voted to move forward with removal proceedings against Councilperson Anthony Piagentini. The process will eventually lead to an ethics trial, where the full Metro Council will act as a jury. Removing Piagentini will take a two-thirds vote. He was found guilty of ethics violations by Louisville’s Ethics Commission, which said there was “clear and convincing evidence” he negotiated a job with a nonprofit while supporting their bid for a major grant.

Maine – State Ethics Commission Fines Group Behind ‘Right to Repair’ Referendum

Yahoo News – Rachel Ohm (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 11/29/2023

Maine’s ethics commission reached an agreement with the political committee that convinced voters to approve Question 4 on the November ballot.  The commission approved a $35,000 penalty against the Automotive Right to Repair Committee because it was late complying with a transparency law for major funders. The maximum fine under state law was $240,000. Maine requires ballot question committees to notify donors who give more than $100,000 that they have to file a report with the ethics commission.

Michigan – Former Democratic Party Chair, AIPAC Deny Offering Nasser Beydoun $20M to Run Against Rashida Tlaib

Yahoo News – Todd Spangler and Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 11/28/2023

Nasser Beydoun, an Arab-American businessperson who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, became the second Democratic candidate to say he was offered as much as $20 million in campaign support to abandon that race and run instead against U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Beydoun said the offer of “approximately $20 million” in “potential” campaign funding to run against Tlaib was made to him by former state Democratic Party Chairperson Lon Johnson. He denied making an offer to Beydoun.

New Mexico – New Mexico Supreme Court Upholds Democratic-Drawn Congressional Map

Associated Press News – Morgan Lee | Published: 11/27/2023

The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a Democratic-drawn congressional map that divvied up a conservative, oil-producing region and reshaped a swing district along the U.S. border with Mexico. The justices affirmed a lower court decision that the redistricting plan enacted by Democratic lawmakers in 2021 succeeded in substantially diluting votes of their political opponents, but the changes fell short of “egregious” gerrymandering.

New York – New York Mayor Eric Adams Is Accused of Sexual Assault

MSN – Mariano Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 11/23/2023

New York Mayor Eric Adams is accused of committing sexual assault in 1993, according to a new court summons filed under the state’s Adult Survivors Act. According to the summons, the plaintiff was sexually assaulted by Adams while they both worked for the city. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the act into law last year, giving adult sexual assault survivors up to one year to file a lawsuit against their alleged attacker, regardless of when the alleged violation happened.

New York – Eric Adams Attended Nearly 80 Events Celebrating Turkey

Politico – Joe Anuta, Jason Beeferman, and Maya Kaufman | Published: 11/17/2023

As Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams attended nearly 80 events over eight years to celebrate Turkey, including a flag-raising in 2015, a charity ball in 2018, and a Zoom meeting with the Turkish consul in 2020. In 2019, as he was embarking on a run for New York City mayor, he joined Martha Stewart at a gala celebrating Turkish Airlines, a company caught up in in an ongoing FBI probe into Adams’ campaign finances. These revelations shed light on Adams’ unusually strong relationship with Turkey, which has drawn scrutiny from federal investigators.

Ohio – Husted to Be Deposed, DeWine Subpoenaed in Lawsuit Over FirstEnergy Bribery Scheme

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 11/28/2023

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is scheduled to be deposed by investors suing FirstEnergy in connection with the House Bill 6 scandal, the most significant public corruption case in state history. In addition, Gov. Mike DeWine received a subpoena for documents in connection with the civil case. The lawsuit mirrors allegations that FirstEnergy paid multimillion-dollar bribes to former House Speaker Larry Householder and Sam Randazzo, formerly the state’s top utility regulator, in exchange for legislation and favorable regulatory treatment. DeWine appointed Randazzo shortly after taking office in 2019.

Ohio – Ohio Supreme Court Upholds New State Legislative Redistricting Plan

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 11/27/2023

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the state’s new legislative redistricting plan, dismissing lawsuits filed by Democratic and good-government groups claiming the new maps are illegally gerrymandered. In a four-to-three party-line ruling, the court’s Republican justices dismissed the lawsuits on procedural grounds. The ruling means that new Ohio House and Senate maps will remain in place through 2030, unless voters approve a proposed overhaul to the redistricting process itself next year.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Republican Party PAC Misreported Millions in Funds, Audit Finds

Oklahoman – Mindy Ragan Wood (Oklahoma Voice) | Published: 11/27/2023

A federal audit uncovered millions in misreported income and expenses for a PAC associated with the Oklahoma Republican Party. An FEC draft audit found the Oklahoma Leadership Council’s bank records did not match its federal campaign finance reports by nearly $2 million. The council is a federal PAC the state Republican Party uses to back GOP candidates and fund independent expenditures against their opponents.

Pennsylvania – Federal Judge Says Pennsylvania Mail-In Ballots Should Still Count If Dated Incorrectly

Associated Press News – Michael Runbinkam | Published: 11/21/2023

Mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania without accurate handwritten dates on their exterior envelopes must still be counted if they are received in time, a judge ruled, concluding that rejecting such ballots violates federal civil rights law. The decision has implications for the 2024 presidential election in a key battleground state where Democrats have been far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans.

Pennsylvania – Pa. Legislature Paid $280K to Settle Harassment, Other Claims While Requiring Secrecy in Many Cases

Spotlight PA – Angelea Couloumbis | Published: 11/30/2023

The Pennsylvania Legislature quietly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years to settle sexual harassment and other claims against lawmakers and staffers. Many of the settlements include controversial secrecy clauses and other provisions that prevent public disclosure of the agreement. Female legislators criticized Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office for paying $295,000 to resolve a sexual harassment claim against a top advisor. The settlement, which only became public after several media outlets filed public records requests, included a nondisclosure agreement.

Tennessee – Judges Rule Against Tennessee Senate Redistricting Map Over Treatment of Nashville Seats

Yahoo News – Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi (Associated Press) | Published: 11/22/2023

A Republican-drawn map for Tennessee’s Senate seats violates the state Constitution because lawmakers incorrectly numbered the legislative districts in left-leaning Nashville, which affects which years those seats are on the ballot, a panel of judges ruled. The decision centers on maps passed by the Republican-supermajority Legislature in 2022. According to the ruling, the state’s attorneys “conceded” they would not defend the Senate map in court and instead focused their attention arguing the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.

Washington – Seattle City Council Candidates Got $2.4M from Democracy Vouchers

Crosscut – Donna Gordon Blankinship | Published: 11/27/2023

Seattle voters were actively involved in financing city council elections this year, distributing nearly 95,000 Democracy Vouchers that pumped nearly $2.4 million into 30 campaigns. Supporters say the idea democratizes political campaigns by giving regular people public money to contribute as they choose, presumably taking some power from wealthy individuals, companies, and organizations that seem to dominate political giving. The program also gives candidates another way to engage directly with voters.

Washington – Seattle Lobbying Firm Strategies 360 Files for Bankruptcy Amid Legal Feud

Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 11/29/2023

A prominent lobbying and public affairs firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid a bitter legal dispute between estranged co-owners. Strategies 360 filed a petition to stave off what Chief Executive Officer Ron Dotzauer described in court filings as a hostile and humiliating takeover bid by his former business partner, Eric Sorenson. The Seattle-based firm employs about 140 people in 13 states and Washington D.C.

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