December 2, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 2, 2022
Candidates Recoup $5M in Old Campaign Loans So Far Thanks to Ted Cruz’s $555K Court Win
MSN – Todd Gillman (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 11/24/2022
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits in place for two decades that barred federal candidates from raising money indefinitely to pay off personal loans. At least 18 current lawmakers and former candidates have availed themselves of the flexibility that Sen. Ted Cruz engineered to recover loans from previous campaigns. Together, they have recouped $5 million. Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, which also defended the restrictions Cruz got overturned, drew a distinction between a senator taking donations that end up in his personal account and an ex-candidate tapping unspent campaign funds to repay an old loan.
Cyberthieves Stole $186,000 from a Republican Member of Congress as Fraud Epidemic Plagues Political Committees
Yahoo News – Dave Levinthal (Business Insider) | Published: 11/29/2022
A cyber thief known only as “Vix” stole more than $186,000 from U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger’s campaign account in an “unauthorized fraudulent wire transfer” in July. The Harshbarger campaign told the FEC the bank in which the stolen money was deposited “froze the funds and returned all the money in question,” meaning Harshbarger did not lose the money for long, in contrast to other prominent political committees that have together lost millions of dollars in recent years. Cybertheft methods such as phishing are preferred methods among perpetrators. But more old-school techniques, such as stealing or falsifying paper checks, are also common.
Democrats Prepare to Upend Presidential Primary Calendar
MSN – Elena Schneider (Politico) | Published: 11/29/2022
The list of states with the biggest say in Democratic presidential contests could get a big shake-up. A flurry of public and private lobbying to reformat the longtime early-state lineup of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina kicked off again after the midterms. States like Michigan and Minnesota are trying to push in, while Nevada is making a play for first-in-the-nation status over New Hampshire. The Democratic National Committee has left open the possibility of adding a fifth calendar to the slate.
Ethics Watchdog Group Seeks Probes into Oversight of Officials’ Stock-Trading Conflicts
Fox Business – Brody Mullins and Rebecca Ballhaus (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 11/22/2022
The Campaign Legal Center filed a series of legal complaints alleging the federal government is failing to adequately enforce conflict-of-interest rules. It called on the executive-branch agency that oversees ethics rules to investigate what it called deficiencies in enforcement at several agencies. The group also requested that internal investigators at four agencies examine whether their ethics programs complied with federal rules. The legal filings were prompted by a series of articles revealing that thousands of federal employees held stock in companies that were regulated by the agencies where those employees worked.
House Democrats Prepare for Unfamiliar Territory: New leaders, in a minority
MSN – Mariana Sotomayor and Camila DeChalus (Washington Post) | Published: 11/30/2022
House Democrats elected a new generation of leaders who will be responsible for keeping the caucus united as they set their sights on winning back the majority next term. The decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to step aside after leading Democrats for two decades has paved the way for the caucus to unite around a younger, more diverse trio of leaders. Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to serve as minority leader, Rep. Katherine Clark as minority whip, and Rep. Pete Aguilar as chairperson. Jeffries will make history as the first Black member to lead either party in either chamber of Congress.
Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s Courtship of a Washington Regulator
MSN – Tory Newmyer and Peter Whoriskey (Washington Post) | Published: 11/28/2022
Crypto magnate Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX has collapsed amid allegations of fraud. As the financial world examines why major firms threw hundreds of millions of dollars at the 30-year-old Bankman-Fried, some are looking anew at his courtship of Washington, D.C. and why he sought to build ties with Rostin Behnam and the agency he leads, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Bankman-Fried had given enough in political currency to expect to get an audience. He gave $40 million to politicians and PACs before the midterms, mostly to Democrats and liberal-leaning groups. Another senior FTX official, Ryan Salame, gave large sums to Republicans.
Oath Keepers’ Rhodes Guilty of Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy
MSN – Lindsay Whitehurst, Alana Durkin Richer, and Michael Kunzelman (Associated Press) | Published: 11/29/2022
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn President Biden’s election, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its prosecution of the Capitol insurrection. Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges. A co-defendant, Kelly Meggs, who led the group’s Florida chapter, was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, while three other associates were cleared of that charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
‘Opening the Gates of Hell’: Musk says he will revive banned accounts
MSN – Taylor Lorenz (Washington Post) | Published: 11/24/2022
Elon Musk said he is granting “amnesty” for suspended accounts. The announcement came after he posted a poll whether there should be reinstatements for accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment, and misinformation will have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. Many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given it is unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.
Supreme Court Clears Way for Trump Tax Returns to Go to Congress
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 11/23/2022
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a congressional committee to examine Donald Trump’s tax returns, denying without comment the former president’s last-ditch effort to extend a legal battle that has consumed Congress and the courts for years. Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his time in office, plus the year before his term and the year after for comparison, to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits. Trump has argued Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing expedition designed to embarrass him politically.
Supreme Court Responds to Lawmakers on Ethics Complaints
MSN – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 11/28/2022
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an unusually forceful and detailed rebuttal to ethics concerns raised by two Democratic lawmakers about a drive by religious conservatives to entertain some justices. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Hank Johnson threatened a probe if the court did not launch its own inquiry into the claims. The court’s legal counsel, Ethan Torrey, repeated and expanded on earlier denials of impropriety issued by Justice Samuel Alito, following reports in the media about a concerted campaign by religious-right activists to encourage more conservative decisions by the justices by building connections with them in social settings.
Trump’s Dinner with Antisemites Provides Test of GOP Response to Extremism
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 11/30/2022
Former President Trump’s refusal to apologize for or disavow the outspoken antisemites he dined with recently is setting him increasingly at odds with leaders of his own party, providing the first test of his political endurance since launching his third run for the White House. The fracas is also testing how Republicans will handle the party’s extreme fringe in the months ahead after years of racist, misogynist, and antisemitic speech flooding into the political bloodstream during the Trump era.
Canada – Questions Raised About Whether Former N.S. Premier Was Lobbying for New Golf Course
CBC – Tom Ayers | Published: 11/21/2022
Former Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald said he is not lobbying the provincial government on behalf of a private golf course developer. He is not listed on the provincial registry of lobbyists, but he has contacted all three party leaders in the Legislature about a proposed 18-hole course on protected lands. MacDonald said he has simply met with local groups on behalf of a developer and given provincial politicians a heads-up that a proposal may be coming.
Canada – Updated Lobbyists’ Code Awaits Approval from House Committee. Critics Say Changes ‘Gut Ethical Lobbying Rules’
National Observer – Natasha Bulowski | Published: 11/29/2022
Proposed changes to Canada’s Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct are ready to be examined and approved by the parliamentary ethics committee before coming into force after two years and three rounds of consultations. The draft update introduced new standards for lobbyists regarding shared relationships, political activities, and gifts. Perhaps one of the most controversial changes has to do with the time between a lobbyist campaigning to elect a politician and petitioning them in their elected role.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – AG Steve Marshall Says Alabama Ethics Commission Policy Undermines Enforcement
MSN – Mike Cason (AL.com) | Published: 11/29/2022
State Attorney General Steve Marshall said his office cannot rely on findings by the Alabama Ethics Commission because of a commission policy that it does not disclose exculpatory information to people under investigation. Marshall’s lawsuit says the commission’s rule to not disclose exculpatory information, evidence that is favorable to the accused, violates due process for those under investigation and impairs the ability of his office to enforce ethics laws. Marshall asked the court to declare the rule null and void.
Arizona – Three Weeks After Election, Arizona Remains in Turmoil Over Results
MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 11/28/2022
In Arizona, where problems with ballot printer ink at about a third of Phoenix-area polling places have fueled unproven Republican claims of a stolen election, events surrounding certification of the results showcased the depths of distrust in election administration in the state, as well as the willingness of GOP candidates and elected officials to sanction, even stoke, that distrust. State Attorney General Mark Brnovich has not indicated publicly how he will handle the looming deadline for the state to certify the results.
California – After Spending $39 Million, California’s Campaign Finance Website Still Trapped in 2000
Center Square – Madison Hirneisen | Published: 11/30/2022
Despite nearly $40 million spent to update California’s antiquated campaign finance website, state lawmakers are still awaiting the roll out of a new platform that was initially scheduled to go live in 2019. Now that may be pushed back to June 2026. That was the subject of a hearing to understand the delay in rolling out an updated version of the California Automated Lobbying and Campaign Contribution Electronic Search System, better known as Cal-Access.
California – Former California Police Chief Charged in CalPERS Double-Dipping Fraud Case
MSN – Randy Diamond (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 11/23/2022
Criminal charges of grand theft have been brought against Greg Love, one of several Broadmoor Police Department chiefs and commanders that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) said defrauded the pension system by collecting more than $2 million in excessive retirement payments. Another former chief, David Parenti, will not be subject to any criminal prosecution. CalPERS misplaced the records for more than four years that detailed a complaint saying Parenti was collecting retirement benefits while drawing a salary as police chief and other positions, said San Mateo County Prosecutor Steve Wagstaffe.
California – These Teens Won the Right to Vote. Their County Disenfranchised Them.
MSN – Moriah Balingit (Washington Post) | Published: 11/30/2022
Many high school students in Oakland worked to lower the voting age to 16 for school board races, arguing no one had a higher stake in who led their district. They won, convincing a supermajority of the electorate in 2020 to expand voting rights to younger teens. But Alameda County, which runs the city’s elections, never implemented the measure. It also failed to deliver on a 2016 ballot initiative from Berkeley that did the same thing. So, November 8 passed like election days past: with 16- and 17-year-olds watching from the sidelines.
Florida – Suspended Florida Prosecutor Takes Fight to DeSantis in Opening Day of Federal Trial
Yahoo News – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 11/29/2022
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren took his battle against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to a federal court in a trial that is exposing the machinations in how the governor’s office operates. DeSantis suspended Warren in August over moves the Democratic elected official made, including signing a pledge that he would not enforce the state’s new abortion laws. Warren contends that DeSantis’s move to suspend him violated his First Amendment rights.
Georgia – Court Says Trump Aide Meadows Must Testify in Election Probe
MSN – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 11/29/2022
The South Carolina Supreme Court said former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows must testify before a special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia. The court’s opinion says the justices reviewed Meadows’ arguments and found them to be “manifestly without merit.”
Georgia – Hall County Solicitor Accused of Ignoring Campaign Finance Laws
WAGA – Randy Travis | Published: 11/22/2022
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission filed a complaint accusing Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard of failing to provide key campaign and financial disclosures for every year since 2018. Records show Woodard has spent little or no money on campaigns in recent years because she has had no opposition. But the law still requires regular reporting.
Georgia – Herschel Walker Only Recently Stopped Renting Out Georgia Home He Claims as His Residence
Yahoo News – Roger Sollenberger (Daily Beast) | Published: 11/28/2022
When he launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, it was widely known at the time that Herschel Walker had been living in Texas for decades, though he has claimed to maintain a residence in Atlanta for “17 years.” Less widely known was that Walker’s wife collected rental income for that residence. Federal law does not require Senate candidates to reside in the state they plan to represent until they are elected. But under Georgia law, aspiring candidates must meet certain residency requirements before they can run for office.
Illinois – Lightfoot Hit with Ethics Complaint After Taking $25K Donation from Chicago Fire Owner Involved in Training Facility Land Swap
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 11/30/2022
Mayor Lori Lightfoot should be investigated for accepting a $25,000 contribution to her re-election campaign from Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto, according to a complaint. That donation came 57 days after the city council approved a proposal Lightfoot backed to turn over some 26 acres of Housing Authority land to the Chicago Fire Football Club. Mansueto’s donation marks the first time he has financially supported Lightfoot’s campaign.
Kentucky – What You Need to Know About Louisville Metro’s New Lobbying Rules
WFPL – Roberto Roldan | Published: 11/28/2022
Louisville Metro will require people and interest groups that try to influence city officials to register as lobbyists and file financial disclosure reports. Councilperson Bill Hollander said he proposed the legislation after looking at transparency measures taken by local governments of similar size to Louisville. The ordinance was also modeled after Kentucky’s Code of Ethics, which was approved by the General Assembly in 1993.
Maine – State Panel Fines Group That Backed Democratic Candidates
Kennebec Journal – Randy Billings (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 11/30/2022
Maine’s ethics commission voted to impose fines totaling nearly $11,000 against a group that supported Democratic state legislative candidates for violating disclosure laws and filing a late report. The commission determined American Leadership Committee-Maine violated campaign finance laws by sending mailers and running digital advertisements without disclosing the group’s top three donors. Commissioners also reviewed a slate of proposed campaign finance changes that will be submitted to the incoming Legislature.
Maryland – Marilyn and Nick Mosby Each Report $0.00 in Their Campaign Bank Accounts
Baltimore Brew – Mark Reutter | Published: 11/29/2022
Indicted State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, each filed reports to the State Board of Elections saying their campaign bank accounts were empty, even though, elsewhere in the same reports, cash surpluses are listed by a computer-generated program. Previously, Baltimore Brew has pointed to many errors and inconsistencies in Marilyn Mosby’s reports, including citing her long-dead grandfather as a campaign donor and listing wrong addresses for staff at the state attorney’s office who contributed.
Massachusetts – Everett Contractor Fined for Excessive Donations to Mayor Carlo DeMaria
MSN – Stephanie Ebbert (Boston Globe) | Published: 11/25/2022
Gregory Antonelli, a contractor and developer in Everett, was fined $6,000 for illegally funneling excessive campaign contributions to Mayor Carlo DeMaria through family members. Antonelli acknowledged asking two relatives to each make $1,000 contributions to the mayor after he had donated the same sum, the maximum amount allowable under campaign finance law. “You subsequently provided cash from your personal account to each family member to reimburse them for the contributions made in their names to the Committee,?” Office of Campaign Finance Director William Campbell wrote to Antonelli.
Michigan – Michigan AG Dana Nessel Wants Lee Chatfield Investigation Records Kept Secret from Public
Yahoo News – Kelly House (Bridge Michigan) and Dave Boucher (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 11/30/2022
The state attorney general wants to restrict public access to search warrant records in its probe of former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, arguing the documents should remain shielded even though the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Michigan won a judge’s order unsealing them. The decision opens the door to the attorney general sitting on the public documents indefinitely, or at least until any formal results from the investigation are released. That, despite a state law requiring courts to release search warrants and affidavits 56 days after a warrant is issued, unless investigators convince a judge or magistrate to extend the suppression.
Missouri – Eric Schmitt’s Office Did Not Keep Travel Records after 2020, Raising Transparency Concerns
AOL – Kacen Bayless and Daniel Desrochers (Kansas City Star) | Published: 11/28/2022
In April, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt walked from inside the U.S. Supreme Court to a circle of cameras and reporters stationed on the sidewalk. Schmitt took questions about his and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to a Biden administration immigration policy. But as he represented the taxpayers of Missouri in front of the Supreme Court, his office did not keep his travel records. The oral arguments, covered by news organizations across the country, did not appear on his calendar. His calendar notes a “Press Conference” and two television interviews that day. There are no records showing the cost of the trip or reimbursement checks.
New Jersey – NJ Transit Report Card: A chief ethics officer with two jobs and two masters
MSN – Colleen Wilson (Bergen Record) | Published: 11/24/2022
The position of chief ethics officer was created as part of the NJ Transit reform legislation to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse. The board unanimously approved Christopher Iu for the position in 2021. Iu, however, is also the agency’s chief compliance officer, and in that role answers to Kevin Corbett, the chief executive officer of NJ Transit. This arrangement is not what former state Sen. Loretta Weinberg had in mind when she was writing the legislation.
New Mexico – Nuclear Watchdog Accuses Ex-Environment Official of Conflicting Interests After She Accepts LANL Job
Santa Fe New Mexican – Scott Wyland | Published: 11/28/2022
A nuclear watchdog group wants a state commission in New Mexico to nullify its decision on a permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s radioactive liquid waste treatment facility, arguing the panel’s former chair backed a ruling favorable to the lab while she sought a job with the federal agency that oversees it. Critics say former state Water Quality Control Commission Chairperson Stephanie Stringer, who also was a deputy secretary of the state Environment Department, is the latest in a series of New Mexico regulators going to work for entities they oversee after taking actions that appear to help their new employers.
New York – De Blasio Was Admonished by Ethics Board for Using City Staff and Phone for Politicking. His Underlings Weren’t So Lucky.
The City – Yoav Gonen | Published: 11/29/2022
Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio violated conflict-of-interest rules more extensively than previously known, but the city’s ethics board kept the breaches under wraps by admonishing him privately. De Blasio received the two 2016 warning letters even as some lower-level municipal workers whom the board found to have similarly misused city resources or personnel got punishments that ranged from a public admonishment to fines of thousands of dollars.
New York – New Ethics Rules Derailed State’s Annual Turkey Donation Program
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 11/23/2022
The New York Democratic Party hurriedly bought and helped distribute roughly 4,000 turkeys after the state’s new ethics rules derailed what had been a November rite of passage for governors to oversee the distribution of the donated birds. Attorneys for Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration determined the law adopted this year prohibited the state from accepting the donations.
New York – Supreme Court Suggests Higher Bar May Be Needed for Corruption Cases
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 11/28/2022
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised to make it tougher to prosecute political corruption cases as they signaled sympathy toward an ex-aide to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a businessperson convicted on bribery and fraud charges. The court has questioned federal prosecutors pursuing public officials for behavior that some justices have considered the normal activity of politics. The justices heard arguments by Cuomo’s former executive deputy secretary Joseph Percoco and onetime construction company executive Louis Ciminelli, who were charged in a corruption crackdown by federal prosecutors centered on Albany.
Ohio – Ethics Questions Swirl Around Lake County Commissioner
WKYC – Phil Trexler and Marisa Saenz | Published: 11/22/2022
Lake County Commissioner John Plecnik worked two full-time jobs and took on a third by using his government office and taxpayer resources. Plecnik, who earns $114,000 as a full-time Cleveland State University law school professor and about $95,000 annually as commissioner, was paid to teach an out-of-state law class via Zoom last summer and used his office to conduct the class. He donated the $9,000 teaching stipend to the Lake County NAACP chapter. Plecnik was not an NAACP member, nor has he ever made a significant contribution until it became known the media was investigating him.
Ohio – Jacob Wohl, Jack Burkman Must Spend 500 Hours Registering Voters as Penance for Phony Robocalls Targeting Black Voters in Cleveland
MSN – Cory Shaffer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 11/29/2022
A judge ordered Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, two right-wing conspiracy theorists behind robocalls that sought to intimidate Black voters in Cleveland out of casting mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election, to spend 500 hours registering voters in low-income neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula placed them on two years of probation, fined each $2,500, and ordered them to home confinement for the first six months of their probation.
Ohio – Ohio Bribery Case: Explosive Justice Department documents show Larry Householder’s involvement in pay-to-play for sports betting
WKYC – Dave DeNatale, Phil Trexler, and Neil Fischer | Published: 11/30/2022
New court filings suggest former Speaker of the House Larry Householder was heavily involved in a “pay-to-play” scandal to bring sports betting to Ohio. The Justice Department says Neil Clark instructed undercover agents to pay $50,000 to $100,000 to expedite legislation, which would eventually end up going to Householder and his associates through his “dark money” account, Generation Now.
Oregon – Oregon State Senator’s Fiery Words Test Free Speech Limits
OPB – Andrew Selsky (Associated Press) | Published: 11/29/2022
A state senator who made veiled threats against the Oregon State Police and the Senate president said he is pursuing a freedom of speech lawsuit against fellow lawmakers who sanctioned him. Sen. Brian Boquist said he also is seeking an order from the Oregon Supreme Court that would prevent the state police or the state attorney general from enforcing legislative branch rules.
Oregon – Portland Auditor Withdraws $5,520 Fine Against Rene Gonzalez’s City Council Campaign
MSN – Catalina Gaitán (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 11/23/2022
The Portland City Auditor reversed its October determination that Rene Gonzalez’s city council campaign violated campaign finance limits by accepting a subsidized $250 monthly rent for over 3,000 square feet of office space and two designated parking spots in downtown Portland owned by campaign supporter and real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer. The announcement arrives after Judge Joe Allen revoked a $77,000 fine the city issued against the campaign. Allen said the deeply discounted office space did not surpass the fair market value of the property and therefore did not qualify as an unreported campaign contribution.
Tennessee – Former State Sen. Brian Kelsey Pleads Guilty to Two Federal Charges in Campaign Conspiracy
Yahoo News – Melissa Brown (Tennessean) | Published: 11/22/2022
Former Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in a scheme to bolster his failed 2016 congressional campaign. The case was moving toward a January trial when Kelsey’s co-defendant, Joshua Smith, pleaded guilty in October. Kelsey and Smith conspired to “orchestrate the concealed movement of $91,000,” the Department of Justice said, the majority of which came from Kelsey’s state Senate campaign account. The funds were shuffled to a national political group to buy advertising for Kelsey’s campaign. The organization made another $80,000 worth of contributions to Kelsey’s congressional campaign.
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