News You Can Use Digest - December 15, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

December 15, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 15, 2023


Kevin McCarthy Uses PAC to Lavish Cash on High-End Resorts, Private Jets and Fine Dining

MSN – Paul Pringle and Adam Elmahrek (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/7/2023

As her exits Congress two months after his historic ouster as House speaker, political obituaries tout Kevin McCarthy’s skills as a prolific fundraiser on behalf of Republican candidates. Also setting him apart from other congressional leaders was his roughly decade-long pattern of using his Majority Committee PAC to spend lavishly on hotels, private jets, and fine dining establishments, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. From 2012 through last June, McCarthy’s PAC shelled out more than $1 million on hotels, private air travel, and eateries.

Trump Gag Order Reinstated but Narrowed in Jan. 6 Case

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 12/8/2023

A federal appeals court narrowed an order limiting what Donald Trump can say about people involved in the criminal case alleging he tried to subvert the 2020 election results, saying he cannot talk about witnesses’ involvement or single out other individuals in ways likely to interfere with the case. U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan had prohibited him from “targeting” any individuals involved in the case involved in the case. The judges said “targeting” was too broad a prohibition on Trump and could be “chilling speech” unlikely to have any impact on the case.

House Ethics Committee Requests Interview with Witness in Gaetz Probe

MSN – Paula Reid and Annie Grayer (CNN) | Published: 12/7/2023

The House ethics committee reached out to at least one witness as part of its investigation into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to schedule an interview in the coming weeks, the latest sign the once dormant probe remains open. The Justice Department in February informed Gaetz’s lawyers it would not bring criminal charges against the Florida Republican after a yearslong sex-trafficking investigation. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Dictator-for-a-Day? Scholars Say Trump Can Do Damage Without Being One.

MSN – Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 12/11/2023

For autocracy scholars and constitutional law experts, Donald Trump’s statements about being a dictator for a day if he is elected again raised alarms that he had thought carefully about how to consolidate the levers of power should he return to office in ways that eluded him in his first four years in the White House. Scholars say even without violating the letter of the law, Trump would have access to broad powers granted to him as chief of the executive branch. He does not need to become a dictator to subvert democracy, they say: he can simply use the tools of democracy to do so.

As Advertisers Flee Musk’s X, Democrats Splurge on Political Ads

MSN – Cristiano Lima and Aaron Schaffer (Washington Post) | Published: 12/11/2023

Advertisers are fleeing Elon Musk’s X amid rising concerns the social media site and its owner are amplifying antisemitic and hateful material. But an unlikely group of holdouts has continued to pump ad dollars into the embattled platform: Democrats running for office. Democrats have spent over a million dollars to run thousands of political ads on X since the platform lifted its ban on such messages earlier this year.

Supreme Court Will Consider Fast-Tracking Trump Appeal in D.C. Trial

MSN – Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein, Robert Barnes, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 12/11/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider special counsel Jack Smith’s request to fast-track consideration of Donald Trump’s claim he is immune from prosecution for alleged election obstruction in 2020, intensifying the legal jockeying over whether Trump’s criminal trial will stay on schedule for early next year. The response by the Supreme Court came hours after Smith’s office filed its request seeking to essentially leapfrog an appeals court process that Trump has already started but which could take months to resolve.

DeSantis’ Campaign and Allied Super PAC Face New Concerns About Legal Conflicts, AP Sources Say

MSN – Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont (Associated Press) | Published: 12/12/2023

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis works to project strength in the Republican presidential primaries and cut into Donald Trump’s huge lead, DeSantis’s expansive political machine is facing leadership challenges, stagnant polling numbers, and new concerns about potential legal conflicts. There has been concern in recent weeks among some within DeSantis’s operation that interactions between his campaign and his network of outside groups are blurring the lines of what is legally permissible.

Still Lacking Evidence, House GOP Votes to Formalize Biden Impeachment Inquiry

MSN – Jaqueline Alemany and Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 12/13/2023

House Republicans voted to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry against President Biden to strengthen their oversight powers as GOP lawmakers continue to investigate the Biden family’s finances. The foundation of the impeachment inquiry rests on an unsubstantiated allegation that has become the linchpin of conspiracy theories and false claims regarding the Biden family’s purported corrupt and criminal conduct.

A ‘Black Hole’ Exists in State Lobbying Disclosures: Report

Yahoo News – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 12/13/2023

A report commissioned by Public Citizen found 98 percent of S&P 500 companies do not provide their investors with state-specific data on lobbying activity. Since 2010, investors have filed 576 shareholder resolutions requesting more details on how much companies spend on lobbying activities and oversight of those activities, the report found. The only S&P 500 company that disclosed material risk connected to lobbying on its annual report to investors was FirstEnergy, which was wrapped up in a recent scandal that thrust this issue into the spotlight.

Supreme Court Will Review Scope of Obstruction Law That Trump Is Charged with Breaking

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 12/13/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up a case that could derail hundreds of January 6 felony prosecutions and could also deal a blow to special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution of Donald Trump. The case, arising from the prosecution of a defendant accused of pushing against police and inflaming a mob attempting to breach the Capitol, calls into question prosecutors’ handling of an Enron-era obstruction law to punish those who stormed Congress.

Kansas Republican Watkins, Ousted Amid Voter Fraud Charges, Returns to Congress as Lobbyist

Yahoo News – Daniel Desrochers (Kansas City Star) | Published: 12/11/2023

Former Rep. Steve Watkins is back in the U.S. Capitol, this time as a lobbyist. He waited more than two years after leaving office before registering as a lobbyist. Watkins entered a diversion agreement on three felony charges for voting in the wrong city council race in Topeka’s 2019 municipal election. A little less than a year after admitting guilt, Watkins registered a company called Huxley Rock LLC. Huxley Rock is a one-man firm. Watkins’ LinkedIn page says it specializes in business and political consulting.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – Alaska Campaign Watchdog Rules Anti-Ranked Choice Group Can Continue Gathering Signatures

Yahoo News – Iris Samuels (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 12/7/2023

An anti-ranked choice voting ballot group will be allowed to continue operating with no immediate consequences for alleged campaign finance violations after a decision by the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The commission considered whether to expedite the adjudication of a complaint alleging the ballot group was helped by an Anchorage church, in violation of the law, as the group works to repeal Alaska’s voting system. By the time the commission rules on whether the law was violated, the group’s work will be done.

Arizona – Phoenix Approves Ethics Commission After 6 Years and on the Fourth Attempt

MSN – Sam Kmack (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/13/2023

The Phoenix City Council approved the creation of ethics commission after spending six years trying and failing to convene the group, which will now independently investigate complaints of ethical violations against elected officials and other city leaders. Such groups exist in almost every other sizable city in the country, said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. But since 2017, Phoenix has struggled to put the commission together thanks to consistent objections from officials on both sides of the isle.

Arizona – Arizona GOP Leaders Sued to Stop ‘Dark Money’ Transparency. A Judge Will Rule by Year’s End

Yahoo News – Mary Joe Pitzl (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/13/2023

A judge said he will rule by December 29 in a case challenging the constitutionality of a voter-approved law on campaign finance transparency. Attorneys representing Republican legislative leaders are asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Ryan to issue a preliminary injunction to block the law. It requires disclosure of major donors to campaigns that until now has been able to mask their contributors by creating a class of nonprofit organizations that do not have to name their donors.

California – How Well Is Your Legislator Representing You?

CalMatters – Sameea Kamal | Published: 12/10/2023

Despite the hundreds of laws that legislators pass each year, many Californians are not always aware of what their representatives do, or how their decisions impact their lives. Their job description is modeled after what federal lawmakers do, in response to specific needs, or based on how legislators interpret the principles of representation. Given the lack of strict requirement, how do we measure how well a lawmaker is performing?

Colorado – Lawyer on Denver Health Board Says He’s Stopped Lobbying for Tobacco Giant Altria After Getting a Call to Resign

Colorado Public Radio – John Daley | Published: 12/13/2023

Denver updated its application for those who want to sit on one of the city’s 130 boards and commissions. The application now includes questions that ask applicants if they are a registered lobbyist and if they would have a conflict-of-interest in their new position. The change was a request from the city council to add transparency after some members thought there was not enough when the former mayor appointed a lobbyist whose clients included a tobacco company to the board of Denver Health.

Florida – DeSantis Staffers Blocked Release of Travel Records, Whistleblower Says

MSN – Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 12/13/2023

During a meeting, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) officials said some of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s travel records should be released, but the governor’s aides overruled them, citing a new state law that restricts access to those records. The dispute escalated into a major battle over the law limiting disclosure of DeSantis’s travel activities and information about his state taxpayer-funded security detail as he crisscrosses the country seeking the Republican presidential nomination. The FDLE is tasked with protecting and transporting the governor and maintaining his travel records.

Florida – A Report Rips Disney for Freebies to Its Local Board. It Omits Gifts to Top Florida Politicians.

NBC News – Noah Pransky and Alec Hernández | Published: 12/7/2023

A war of words – and regulations – escalated when a board, hand-picked by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, endorsed an audit alleging Disney World for decades used free park perks to improperly influence public officials and employees tasked with the oversight of the park. The audit claimed Disney gave complimentary annual passes and steep discounts to the public employees, calling the perks “akin to bribes.”

Florida – Howland Files Legislation for Certain No-Bid Contracts to Go Through Jacksonville City Council

Yahoo News – Hanna Holthaus (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 12/11/2023

New legislation could bring an end to no-bid lobbying contracts in Jacksonville city government. The city council’s finance committee criticized the $300,000 federal grant writing and lobbying contract to Langton Consulting, owned by Mayor Donna Deegan supporters, because the administration offered it directly without shopping for other bids. Committee Chairperson Nick Howland asked the administration to drop the contract and filed a bill to require all future state and federal lobbying and grant writing contracts to be approved by city council.

Georgia – Georgia Libertarians Fight Two-Party Campaign Finance Law at 11th Circuit

Courthouse News Service – Kayla Goggin | Published: 12/13/2023

An appeals court will decide whether to give the Libertarian Party of Georgia another chance at pursuing its challenge to a campaign finance law that allows some candidates to accept unlimited campaign contributions, a fundraising advantage the party says benefits Republican and Democratic hopefuls over third-party contenders. The lawsuit claims the act unfairly allows Republican and Democratic candidates to create special leadership committees to accept campaign contributions over the typical limits.

Georgia – Giuliani Could Pay Millions as Ga. Election Worker Defamation Trial Starts

MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 12/10/2023

Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani could be on the hook for up to $43.5 million in damages as a defamation lawsuit filed against him by two Georgia election workers goes to trial. The showdown between the financially strapped Giuliani and the two temporary poll workers he baselessly accused of ballot tampering in 2020 will highlight a major court battle over false claims that became central to former President Trump’s efforts to stay in power and is now at the heart of two criminal cases against him.

Illinois – Four Years Later, City Council Finally Poised to Extend Lobbyist Requirements to Nonprofits

Chicago Sun-Times – Fran Spielman | Published: 12/11/2023

Chicago is finally getting around to broadening the definition of registered lobbyists to include nonprofits, but only after softening the blow to avoid tying their hands with costly red tape. The city council’s Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight passed a revised ordinance that calls for Chicago to join New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia in requiring nonprofit lobbyists to register and file regular reports with the Board of Ethics.

Illinois – Board of Ethics Finds Probable Cause Four Lobbyists Improperly Donated to Johnson

MSN – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 12/13/2023

The Chicago Board of Ethics found two registered lobbyists appeared to violate an executive order by giving money to Mayor Brandon Johnson. The violations do not carry a penalty for the mayor but could mean those lobbyists lose their ability to work at City Hall. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 signed the orders barring donations from city contractors and lobbyists, which will remain in place until a future mayor rescinds them.

Iowa – Iowa Lawmaker Calls for Gov. Kim Reynolds to Remove Satanic Display from Capitol

MSN – Victoria Reyna-Rodriguez and Noelle Alviz-Gransee (Des Moines Register) | Published: 12/11/2023

A satanic display placed in the Iowa Capitol is unconstitutional, said Rep. Brad Sherman, who is calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to order its removal. But other Republican legislators say they would oppose the government limiting freedom of speech in reaction to the display, which will be in place for a total of two weeks.

Maine – Anti-Super PAC Campaign Says They Have Enough Signatures to Get on the Maine Ballot

Maine Beacon – Dan Neuman | Published: 12/7/2023

A ballot campaign led by activist Lawrence Lessig to limit contributions to super PACs says it has collected enough signatures to qualify for the Maine ballot in 2024. Super PACs differ from traditional PACs in that they give corporations the ability to make unlimited contributions. Maine Citizens to End Super PACs, the group behind the ballot question, argues that if successful, the initiative would cap donations to super PACs at $5,000, all but eliminating their effectiveness.

Maine – Maine Media Groups, Utilities Challenge New Law on Foreign Spending on Referendums

Portland Press Herald – Rachel Ohm | Published: 12/12/2023

Maine’s two largest power companies and groups representing media outlets filed separate federal lawsuits challenging a state law passed by voters in November to ban foreign governments and affiliated organizations from spending money on state and local referendum campaigns. The measure is largely a response to foreign government spending in the referendum campaign two years ago over the future of a planned electricity corridor in western Maine.

Massachusetts – Brookline School Officials Violated Massachusetts Campaign Finance Laws by Sending Emails About Tax Increases

MSN – James Vaznis (Boston Globe) | Published: 12/9/2023

Tucked inside various newsletters to parents in Brookline last spring were appeals from school administrators to support property tax hikes at the ballot box for the school budget, accompanied by warnings about devastating cuts if the votes failed. Brookline officials got their way at the ballot box, but repeatedly broke the state’s campaign finance law by sending out the emails to influence the vote, according to an investigation by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Michigan – Records: Michigan senator helped steer $25M Clare grant now under investigation

Bridge Michigan – Jonathan Oosting and Mike Wilkinson | Published: 12/13/2023

A state senator and a lobbyist intervened to help a former legislative staffer obtain a $25 million grant that is now under investigation by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for possible prosecution. Records shed new light on how a no-bid contract was awarded to a nonprofit created and run by Dave Coker, who once worked for them-House Speaker Jason Wentworth. State Sen. Rick Outman acknowledged he phoned state health officials on behalf of the project, but maintained he had no idea that Coker would benefit.

Michigan – Whitmer Signs Bills Criminalizing Election Official Intimidation, Curbing AI in Campaigns

Detroit News – Beth LeBlanc | Published: 11/30/2023

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed nearly 20 bills that will create penalties for intimidating an election worker, solidify the process for presidential electors, change the way young people register to vote, and put restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence in campaign ads. Bill sponsors described the legislation as a way to button up state laws in the wake of controversy over the 2020 presidential election.

Michigan – Whitmer Signs Bills Implementing Proposal 1

MSN – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 12/9/2023

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills implementing requirements for top state officials and lawmakers to report information about their finances after voters approved a constitutional amendment mandating the disclosures. The bills go beyond Proposal 1, subjecting candidates for office to financial reporting requirements, for instance. But they do not go as far as some Democratic lawmakers and transparency advocates had hoped.

Nevada – Lombardo Spurned Ethics Commissioner’s Reapplication Ahead of Major Vote, Emails Show

Nevada Independent – Tabitha Mueller | Published: 12/13/2023

Days before a Nevada Commission on Ethics on a potential $1.6 million fine for using his sheriff’s badge and uniform during his 2022 campaign for governor, Gov. Joe Lombardo appointed two new members to the eight-member board, both of whom later voted against fining or censuring the governor. Emails indicate Lombardo made the new appointments despite a former Republican commissioner expressing interest in serving another term.

New Jersey – Judge Throws Out Suit That Tried to Block Changes to NJ Campaign Finance Law

Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 12/11/2023

A state judge dismissed a lawsuit that  the former leader of New Jersey’s campaign finance watchdog agency filed against Gov. Phil Murphy seeking to overturn a controversial new law revamping campaign finance rules. It was the second of two lawsuits filed by Jeff Brindle, the former executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning Brindle cannot file the same lawsuit again.

New York – Hochul Vetoes Lobbying Loophole Bill After Chief Judge Battle

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 12/10/2023

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed bipartisan legislation intended to close a loophole in lobbying laws that was exposed during a political battle over her initial, and failed, nomination of a new chief judge of the Court of Appeals. The efforts to influence the selection of the state’s top judge had centered on Hochul’s efforts to install Justice Hector LaSalle as the top jurist on the state’s highest court. The nomination triggered well-funded efforts to influence the Legislature’s decision on LaSalle’s appointment, revealing a gap in state law that allows unregistered lobbying in judicial nominations and other top state offices.

New York – New York High Court Allows State Democrats Chance to Alter Congressional Maps

MSN – Maegan Vazquez and Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 12/12/2023

The New York State Court of Appeals granted Democrats who control the state Legislature a chance to approve a new set of congressional district lines, effectively throwing out a map that led to several Republican victories in 2022 House races. The ruling could be consequential in determining which party controls the House during the next Congress. In 2022, Republicans flipped four districts in New York, giving them a razor-thin majority in the House.

New York – Appeals Court Denies Trump’s ‘Presidential Immunity’ Argument in Defamation Lawsuit

MSN – Philip Marcelo (Associated Press) | Published: 12/13/2023

A federal appeals court ruled Donald Trump gave up his right to argue presidential immunity protects him from being held liable for statements he made in 2019 when he denied he raped advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. A three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s ruling that Trump had effectively waived the immunity defense by not raising it when Carroll first filed a defamation lawsuit against him four years ago.

Oklahoma – Okla. Ethics Commission Names New Executive Director

NonDoc – Michael McNutt | Published: 12/7/2023

Lee Anne Bruce Boone was named as the new executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. She will start her duties on January 4, succeeding Ashley Kemp. Commission Chairperson Jarred Brejcha said Boone’s leadership skills stood out among the 14 applicants for the post. All the applicants were from Oklahoma.

Oregon – ‘Thank God They Walked Out’: Oregon’s partisan divide highlights heightened animosity in statehouses

Yahoo News – Paul Demko (Politico) | Published: 12/13/2023

Ten Oregon Republican state senators may face the end of their legislative careers for a six-week legislative walkout aimed at thwarting what they see as a radical Democratic agenda. The lawmakers are banned from running for reelection for accumulating at least 10 unexcused absences during this year’s legislative session. It is arguably the most glaring example of how Washington’s toxic partisan culture is increasingly infecting statehouses across the country.

Pennsylvania – The Philly Ethics Board Dropped Its Case Against the ‘Super PAC’ That Backed Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/11/2023

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics dropped its lawsuit against the super PAC that supported Jeff Brown’s unsuccessful run for mayor, ending a legal saga that shook up the election and contributed to Brown’s fifth-place finish in the Democratic primary. The board announced it will instead focus on revising the campaign finance regulations that were at the center of the dispute.

Texas – Supreme Court Allows Texas Voting Map Challenged by Civil Rights Advocates

MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 12/12/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed a local Texas election to go forward under a map that a lower court had found diluted the votes of Black and Latino residents. The order came in response to a challenge from civil rights advocates opposed to the voting districts in Galveston County. While the case involves the boundaries in just one locality, it could have broader implications for challenges to election maps and the protection of voting rights nationwide.

Washington – WA GOP Fights Secretary of State’s Effort to Track Election Misinformation

Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 12/11/2023

An effort by Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to track and refute viral online misinformation about elections has prompted objections from the state Republican Party. The state GOP recently filed a formal complaint with the Executive Ethics Board, accusing Hobbs of violating the constitution and his oath of office by hiring a firm to scour social media for harmful “narratives and threats” about Washington elections officials and voting.

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