December 10, 2021 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 10, 2021
Challenges to the Voting Rights Act Far from Over
Center for Public Integrity – Carrie Levine | Published: 12/1/2021
When the U.S. Supreme Court decided an important voting rights case earlier this year, its ruling made it more difficult for voters to challenge restrictive state voting laws. Now, Texas is making an argument that, if adopted, would further hobble use of what remains of the Voting Rights Act. In a brief filed in a redistricting case, lawyers for the Texas argued it is not clear that Section 2 of the act allows private challenges to state laws at all, an argument that flies in the face of how the landmark civil rights-era statute has been interpreted by federal courts for decades.
Chris Cuomo Fired by CNN After Aiding Governor Brother and Other ‘New Allegations’
MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 12/4/2021
Four days after announcing he would be indefinitely suspended from the network, CNN terminated its host Chris Cuomo following an investigation conducted by a law firm that it said had turned up “additional information” about him. Cuomo was suspended a day after documents released by New York Attorney General Letitia James showed he was more extensively involved in helping to defend his brother, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, against allegations of sexual misconduct than he had acknowledged, either publicly or to CNN management.
Courts May Play Outsize Role in Redistricting Fights
MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 12/7/2021
The delayed release of 2020 census data has seen states sprinting to finish redistricting, but with control of the U.S. House hanging by a handful of seats, litigants are looking to courthouses to challenge the mapmaking effort. Several states, such as South Carolina and Pennsylvania, face lawsuits without having even finished their redistricting process. Challenges elsewhere have already played out: Republicans dropped a lawsuit against Oregon’s new congressional map recently.
Far Right Is Using Twitter’s New Rule Against Anti-Extremism Researchers
Washington Post – Drew Harwell | Published: 12/3/2021
Neo-Nazis and far-right activists are coaching followers on how to use a new Twitter rule to persuade the social media platform to remove photos of them posted by anti-extremism researchers and journalists who specialize in identifying episodes of real-world hate. Advocates said they worry the new policy will suppress efforts to document the activities of the far right and will prove to be a gift to members of hateful movements eager to keep their identities concealed.
Jan. 6 Committee Says It Will Move to Hold Former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in Criminal Contempt
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 12/8/2021
The U.S. House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol said it is preparing to hold Mark Meadows, former President Trump’s chief of staff, in criminal contempt for not complying with the panel’s subpoena as it is ramping up efforts to force former Trump administration officials to cooperate with its inquiry. Committee Chairperson Bennie Thompson said in a letter sent to Meadows the panel’s patience had run out and dismissed his argument that much of the information the committee sought was covered by executive privilege because it involved his duties as an aide to Trump at the White House.
Pro-Trump Scam PAC Operator, PPP Fraudster Sentenced to Nearly 4 Years in Prison
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2021
A Las Vegas man behind both a pro-Trump scam PAC and a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan scheme was sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered to repay $1.4 million to his victims, including federal taxpayers. James Bell stole government pandemic relief aid while also conning supporters of both President Trump and eventual victor Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Bell, prosecutors said, was the first scam PAC operator to be sentenced in federal court in Washington, as well as the first PPP loan fraud defendant.
Rep. Devin Nunes to Leave Congress to Become Trump Media Company CEO
MSN – Amy Wang and David Weigel (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2021
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes plans to leave his seat at the end of December to become chief executive officer at a new media company founded by former President Trump. Nunes represents a historically Republican district that was growing more competitive even before the current round of redistricting. Early drafts of California’s next map put Nunes in a less Republican district in the Fresno area, one that backed Joe Biden by nine points. The Trump Media and Technology Group has not yet released any products to the public and missed its self-imposed deadline to roll out a beta-test version of its social media service in November.
Sidney Powell Group Raised More Than $14 Million Spreading Election Falsehoods
MSN – Emma Brown, Rosalind Helderman, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2021
Records show Defending the Republic, a nonprofit founded by attorney Sidney Powell to fight the results of the 2020 presidential election, has raised more than $14 million, a sum that reveals the reach and resonance of one of the most visible efforts to fundraise using baseless claims about the election. Previously unreported records also detail acrimony between Powell and her top lieutenants over how the money, now a focus of inquiries by federal prosecutors and Congress, was being handled. As head of Defending the Republic, Powell controlled $9 million as recently as this summer.
Ted Cruz Has Never Recouped More Than $500,000 He Loaned His First Campaign. He’s Working to Overturn the Law That’s Blocked Him.
Texas Tribune – James Polard | Published: 12/8/2021
Ted Cruz loaned his campaign over $1 million in 2012, which helped him win election to the U.S. Senate. Cruz has never been able to recoup $545,000 of that loan. A 2002 law bans victorious federal candidates from using more than $250,000 raised after an election to pay back loans they gave their own campaigns prior to Election Day. A lawsuit the campaign filed against the FEC will soon reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Cruz’s campaign lawyers are expected to argue the limit is unconstitutional, arbitrarily limits political speech, and deters candidates from loaning money to their campaigns.
The Troubling New Void in Local Journalism – and the Nonprofits Trying to Fill It
MSN – Elahe Izadi (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2021
States Newsroom is a network of nonprofit newsrooms covering state government across the country. These outlets keep close tabs on state Legislatures and regulatory agencies where decisions are being made that affect many aspects of daily life for citizens. With funding from foundations and a variety of donors, States Newsroom formed two years ago to attempt to fill a void in what many government watchdogs and civil-society experts believe is one of the biggest manifestations of the local journalism crisis: the dire shortage of reporters covering state government.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Lawmaker’s Bill Would Make Arizona School Board Elections Partisan
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 12/5/2021
State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita believes she has a way of helping Arizona voters identify who they want to run their school boards: make candidates run with their party affiliation. The proposal would scrap the current system where people interested in the unpaid position submit nominating papers and then run against each other in a general election. Instead, all the registered candidates from each party would compete in an August primary, with the winners then facing off in November. it would put Arizona in the minority of states with a similar system, following only Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Arkansas – State Officials Look to Replace Arkansas’ ‘Clunky,’ ‘Antiquated’ Electronic Campaign-Finance System
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Lisa Hammersly | Published: 12/5/2021
Lawmakers and the Arkansas secretary of state’s office are taking steps to procure a new computerized campaign finance system at an estimated cost of $750,000 to $1 million in hopes it will be easier to use. The planned new system, however, is not expected to be in place until after the November 2022 general election. That means candidates and the public have more than a year to coexist with the current system’s flaws. Those include errors and omissions in data, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found in examining more than 650,000 campaign contribution and expenditure reports over the past four years.
California – Former Head of DWP Agrees to Plead Guilty to Bribery Charge
MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/6/2021
The former top executive of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) agreed to plead guilty to a bribery charge in a widening corruption case involving the utility. David Wright accepted bribes from a lawyer in exchange for supporting a $30 million, no-bid DWP contract. Wright also admitted in the plea agreement he participated in several other corrupt schemes while serving as head of the DWP. Paul Paradis, the attorney whose company received the contract, agreed to plead guilty in a scheme that involved him receiving a $2.2-million kickback from another attorney.
California – Lavish Gifts, Expensive Trips: Was California state worker union leader’s spending justified?
MSN – Wes Ventiecher (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 12/3/2021
Records show former Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker spent nearly $7,000 on gifts for top union officers and thousands of dollars on international travel for union purposes. That included $4,500 to Disney Resorts in the largest gift to an outgoing officer, along with $5,700 for a flight to Tel Aviv for a labor event and $159 for a celebration at Sacramento’s Device Brewing Company, and other expenditures. IRS rules require the tax-exempt organization to spend its money in ways that benefit members, not themselves. But all the spending potentially was justifiable, according to a tax expert.
California – San Francisco’s City Hall Works to Restore Tarnished Reputation
San Francisco Examiner – Jeff Elder | Published: 12/7/2021
A corruption scandal has spurred ethics reform efforts in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit elected officials and city department heads from requesting donations to charities from “interested parties,” including lobbyists, and those seeking contracts and permits from the city. Supervisors cited the federal case in which companies admitted to conspiring to bribe former Public Works Department Director Mohammed Nuru. The San Francisco Ethics Commission is expected to discuss a ballot measure that would lay out broad guidelines on prohibited behavior and ethics training.
California – Wahl Legal Team Agrees to Deposition Date in Ash Street Litigation
San Diego Union Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 12/4/2021
Christopher Wahl, the Southwest Strategies lobbyist who has been meeting privately with San Diego city officials to try to settle litigation over the city’s lease of a high rise, agreed to appear for a deposition in January. San Diego resident John Gordon claimed in his lawsuit that the 20-year lease-purchase deal is illegal. If the interview happens, it comes three months after Wahl was first served a subpoena and some seven weeks after he was initially scheduled to appear for a deposition.
Connecticut – Inquiry Underway into Top Connecticut Prosecutor’s Hiring of Lamont Administration Official’s Daughter. A Former U.S. Attorney Will Investigate.
Hartford Courant – Mark Pazniokas (CT Mirror) | Published: 12/3/2021
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration retained attorneys to investigate “possible improprieties by state employees and possibly others.” Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. said a focus of the inquiry is the circumstances surrounding his hiring of Anastasia Diamantis, the daughter of Kostantinos Diamantis, one of the budget officials whom Colangelo had been lobbying for help in securing raises. Emails show Anastasia Diamantis was hired as Colangelo unsuccessfully pressed state officials, including her father, for help securing raises for prosecutors.
Florida – House Victory Senior Adviser Resigns Following ‘Ghost Candidate’ Reports
Florida Politics – Renzo Downey | Published: 12/3/2021
Political consultant and fundraiser Dan Newman resigned from the Florida Democrats’ House campaign operation following reports of his ties to a “ghost candidate” scheme. Florida Power and Light (FPL) executives worked with consultants behind the sham candidate scheme currently under investigation for undercutting Senate Democratic candidates last year using Republican strategies. Documents show Newman, who previously lobbied for FPL and has publicly stated he donated to the ghost campaign committee, received a $1.25 million check from FPL for his consulting firm in September 2020. An accompanying text message sent by Newman to consultants read, “The eagle has landed.”
Illinois – Center of ‘Rape Email’ Denies Knowledge of Alleged Illinois Government Coverup
Belleville News-Democrat – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 12/1/2021
The former campaign worker for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker who is at the center of an email in which a one-time statehouse lobbyist alleged government coverups of a rape and illegal state hiring says he is completely unaware of the purported incidents that have dogged him since the email became public last year. Forrest Ashby, a longtime state employee who worked on the Pritzker’s 2018 campaign, said he never got a direct answer when he confronted the author of the email, Michael McClain – an ex-lobbyist now under indictment in an alleged bribery scheme that tarnished his confidante, former House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Michigan – Sidney Powell, L. Lin Wood Among Attorneys Ordered to Pay $175,000 Over Michigan ‘Kraken’ Suit
MSN – Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 12/2/2021
A federal judge ordered a group of lawyers who brought a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results to pay about $175,000 in legal fees to the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit, the latest in a series of rulings from federal judges seeking to hold lawyers accountable for trying to use the courts to overturn a democratic election. U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker had already ordered that the group of nine lawyers, including Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, be disciplined for their role in the suit, which in August she called “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
Missouri – Controversial Bill Would Have Aided Missouri Company Under Scrutiny for Contamination
Missouri Independent – Alison Kite | Published: 12/6/2021
Two years ago, a company led by an influential Republican businessperson faced off with the Missouri’s environmental regulators over whether it needed to do additional testing for a chemical that health officials worried could pose a cancer risk to the company’s workers. The company argued the Department of Natural Resources was overzealously enforcing federal hazardous waste testing guidance that was not required by law or regulation. Soon the company’s complaints were reflected in legislation criticized as an attack on the state’s environmental regulation.
New Hampshire – Members of Public Who Attended Legislative Hearings Say They Were Not Contact Traced
Concord Monitor – Ethan DeWitt | Published: 12/4/2021
When Beverly Cotton got the call telling her of a potential COVID-19 exposure at a legislative committee session, it did not come from the New Hampshire House. It came from a fellow audience member. Cotton had joined a dozen other lobbyists, advocates, and reporters to watch the proceedings of the House Election Law Committee. Two days later, she was told someone in the room had later tested positive for COVID-19. The alert was worrying for Cotton, who has an underlying health condition. But the manner in which she received the news was unusual.
New York – New York City Poised to Give Voting Rights to Noncitizens
Yahoo News – Bobby Caina Calvin (Associated Press) | Published: 12/7/2021
Under a bill nearing approval, some 800,000 legally documented, voting-age noncitizens in New York City would be allowed to cast ballots in elections to pick the mayor, city council members, and other municipal officeholders. Noncitizens still would not be able to vote for president or members of Congress in federal races, or in the state elections that pick the governor, judges, and legislators. The move is a counterpoint to restrictions being enacted in some states, where Republicans have espoused unsupported claims of rampant fraud by noncitizens in federal elections.
New York – NY Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin Changes Answers on Background Check After News’ Expose
New York Daily News – Michael Gartland | Published: 12/6/2021
New state records revealed New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin changed his answers on state background check forms, two weeks after it was reported he provided incorrect information on his original disclosure before being sworn in as Gov. Hochul’s second-in-command. Benjamin refers several times to an addendum on his latest background check form. In it, he concedes that as a candidate, he has “had many interactions with regulatory bodies that oversee elections and campaign finance matters.”
Oregon – Good Government Groups Are Pushing Campaign Finance Limits in Oregon. They Might Have Competition.
OPB – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 12/7/2021
A coalition of good government groups filed three potential ballot measures with the state that would shake up Oregon’s permissive system of funding campaigns. The group says it will decide on one to put forward to voters in 2022, once polling shows which is most popular. While differing in their specifics, each of the proposals would create new limits on what individuals, advocacy groups, corporations, and political parties can contribute to candidates and causes. The proposals also include requirements that political advertisements prominently display top donors, and “dark money” groups disclose their funding sources if they engage in campaigning.
Pennsylvania – PA Senate Election Probe Contract Doesn’t Say If the Public Will See the Results, Among Other Things
WSKG – Sam Dunklau | Published: 12/7/2021
Multiple federal investigations as well as court rulings and state-mandated audits and of ballots from every Pennsylvania county have turned up no evidence of election problems that were out of the ordinary. The Department of State has said the last several election cycles ran smoothly. Even so, Pennsylvania Senate Republicans are paying over $2500,000 in taxpayer money to an Envoy Sage LLC to investigate those elections. Details of the agreement between the two are now public. Democratic senators as well as voter advocates say the document raises more questions than it answers.
Pennsylvania – Philadelphia Gas Works Emails Show Involvement in Drafting Bill That Runs Counter to Climate Goals
StateImpact Pennsylvania – Susan Phillips | Published: 12/3/2021
Philadelphia has as a climate goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. But the city owns a large fossil fuel utility, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW), which represents a major hurdle. Philadelphia is on the verge of releasing a study aimed at figuring out how to transform PGW to cut the city’s carbon emissions. Meanwhile, legislation is making its way through Harrisburg that would tie the hands of municipalities across the state when it comes to electrification. The city opposes the legislation, but emails obtained show PGW executives engaged in crafting, and potentially strengthening, a measure that would block efforts to promote electrification.
Pennsylvania – Philly City Council President Wants to Tweak Ethics Rules. But He Says It’s Not Related to Bobby Henon’s Conviction
MSN – Laura McCrystal (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/2/2021
Two weeks after Philadelphia City Councilperson Bobby Henon was convicted of bribery, council President Darrell Clarke proposed a modest tweak of city ethics rules: that council members must provide written notice when they recuse themselves from votes due to a conflict-of-interest. Clarke’s spokesperson denied the new measure was a response to the criminal case. A federal jury found inion leader John Dougherty bought Henon’s loyalty with a $70,000 annual union salary.
Pennsylvania – The Pa. Politicians Who Got Local 98 Campaign Money Aren’t Having Second Thoughts, Even After Johnny Doc’s Conviction
MSN – Jonathan Tamari and Andrew Seidman (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/8/2021
Convicted of bribery, the powerful Philadelphia labor leader John Dougherty has resigned from the union he led for almost three decades and is likely headed to federal prison. But prominent Pennsylvania politicians who’ve benefited from the union’s largesse are not renouncing its campaign money or saying much of anything about the trial that illustrated the city’s sometimes toxic mix of money and politics. Only one major recipient expressed any qualms about the contributions, which ranged from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million.
Texas – Justice Dept. Sues Texas Over Redistricting, Citing Discrimination Against Latinos
MSN – David Nakamura and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2021
The U.S. Justice Department sued Texas for the second time in a month over voting-related concerns, this time alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Latinos and other minorities when they approved new congressional and state legislative districts that increased the power of White voters. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement marked the Biden administration’s first major legal action on redistricting. While the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to put limits on partisan gerrymandering, it is illegal to draw lines that are unfair to racial and ethnic minorities.
Utah – Proposed Ballot Initiative Would Return Utah to In-Person Paper Balloting on Election Day
Salt Lake Tribune – Brian Schott | Published: 12/7/2021
A group called Secure Vote Utah is hoping to get enough signatures to put an initiative on the 2022 ballot to do away with the state’s mail-in elections in favor of all paper ballots. The proposal also scraps early voting and most absentee balloting and makes it more difficult to register to vote. As it stands, every registered voter in the state is sent a ballot through the mail. If voters approve the initiative, nearly all voting would use paper ballots, marked by a pen or pencil, at neighborhood polling places. The only exceptions are for disabled individuals who need a mechanical method for voting.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Family Action Sues to Strike Down Campaign Finance Rule to Shield Names of Its Donors
Yahoo News – Patrick Marley (Milwaukee Journal-Gazette) | Published: 12/6/2021
Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit saying it was reluctant to spend money in two congressional races because it feared the FEC would try to force it to disclose the names of its donors. It is asking U.S. District Court Judge William Griesbach to declare some of the FEC’s regulations unconstitutional. The lawsuit alleges the agency is trying to require groups like Wisconsin Family Action to disclose the names of donors who give more than $200 even if the money is not intended for political efforts.
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