News You Can Use Digest - December 22, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

December 22, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 22, 2023


Here Are the Other States Where Trump’s Ballot Eligibility Faces a Challenge

Las Vegas Sun – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 12/21/2023

The decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to disqualify Donald Trump from holding office again was the first victory for a legal effort that is still unfolding across the country. At least 16 other states have pending legal challenges to Trump’s eligibility for office under the 14th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court will face some pressure from the political calendar if it takes up an appeal. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said her office must certify which candidates are on the ballot by January 5 to print ballots in time for the state’s primary election two months later.

A Fight for Black Representation, with a Civil Rights Landmark on the Line

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 12/13/2023

Litigation filed across the South that alleges Republican lawmakers illegally drew district lines to limit the power of minority voters. The outcome of the suits likely will influence which party controls the next Congress. The cases will also test how much a 58-year-old landmark of the civil rights era still matters. The potency of the Voting Rights Act has been eroded in recent years by the courts. Voting rights advocates view the decisions as a threat to the guarantee all eligible voters can cast ballots and people of color will get an equal say. Conservatives say it is less necessary after generations of progress for minority groups.

FEC Revises Rules for Candidates Drawing Salaries from Campaigns

MSN – Daniela Altimari (Roll Call) | Published: 12/15/2023

Advocates for working-class candidates are applauding a new FEC rule that makes it easier for those running for Congress to draw salaries from their campaign accounts. The rule more accurately reflects the demands of running for federal office, which typically require full-time campaigning for a year or more leading up to the election, said Shana Broussard, a Democratic member of the FEC.

The Rise of AI Fake News Is Creating a ‘Misinformation Superspreader’

MSN – Pranshu Verma (Washington Post) | Published: 12/17/2023

Artificial intelligence is automating the creation of fake news, spurring an explosion of web content mimicking factual articles that instead disseminates false information about elections, wars, and natural disasters. Historically, propaganda operations have relied on armies of low-paid workers or highly coordinated intelligence organizations to build sites that appear to be legitimate. But AI is making it easy for nearly anyone to create these outlets, producing content that is at times hard to differentiate from real news.

Ron DeSantis Wanted to Change the Way Campaigns Were Funded. Then the Fights Started.

MSN – Michael Scherer, Hannah Knowles, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 12/16/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a plan to change how presidential campaigns are usually funded as he sought the White House. His first campaign manager developed the strategy and selected the leadership to lead a new super PAC called Never Back Down. Under campaign finance rules, the PAC and the campaign could not privately coordinate most of their spending. But they aimed to function as an integrated whole. It was the first time a major campaign ceded so much of its operations to an entity it could not legally control. With just weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, the experiment is now in tatters.

GOP Voter-Fraud Crackdown Overwhelmingly Targets Minorities, Democrats

MSN – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 12/20/2023

As Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, Republicans in some states launched special units to prosecute voter fraud as part of a controversial push to stamp out cheating some claimed was rampant. But the election integrity units obtained only 47 convictions during a period in which tens of millions of votes were cast, and the units overwhelmingly targeted minorities and Democrats for prosecution, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Venezuela Hands over ‘Fat Leonard,’ Mastermind in U.S. Navy Scandal

MSN – Samantha Schmidt, Ana Vanessa Herrero, and Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) | Published: 12/20/2023

Leonard Glenn Francis, the fugitive defense contractor who admitted to a $35 million bribery scheme in the largest corruption scandal in U.S. military history, was arrested and returned by Venezuela to the United States as part of a major prisoner swap between the estranged countries. Francis, known as “Fat Leonard,” was apprehended by Venezuelan authorities in Caracas last year after escaping U.S. sentencing.

Feds Charge Ex-Miami Congressman Rivera Anew with Breaking Income Tax Laws in Venezuela Case

MSN – Jay Weaver (Miami Herald) | Published: 12/19/2023

A year after being charged with working as an unofficial agent for the Venezuelan government, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera is now accused of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and diverting some of that money through a campaign account to himself. The charges were added to an original indictment that charges Rivera with acting as an agent for Venezuela without legally registering wit for a lobbying job that paid him $20 million before he was fired.

A ‘Delicate Matter’: Clarence Thomas’ private complaints about money sparked fears he would resign

ProPublica – Justin Elliot, Joshua Kaplan, Alex Mierjeski, and Brett Murphy | Published: 12/18/2023

In January 2000, Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech at an off-the-record conservative conference. He was seated next to a Republican member of Congress on the flight home. The lawmaker left the conversation worried Thomas might resign. Congress should give Supreme Court justices a pay raise, Thomas told him – if lawmakers did not act, “one or more justices will leave soon.” Documents and interviews offer insight into how Thomas was talking about his finances in a crucial period in his tenure, just as he was developing his relationships with a set of wealthy benefactors.

Material From Russia Investigation Went Missing as Trump Left Office

Seattle Times – Maggie Haberman, Julian Barnes, Charlie Savage, and Jonathan Swan (New York Times) | Published: 12/15/2023

Material from a binder with highly classified information connected to the investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election disappeared in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency, two people familiar with the matter said. The disappearance of the material, known as the “Crossfire Hurricane” binder for the name given to the investigation by the FBI, vexed national security officials and set off concerns that sensitive information could be inappropriately shared.

House Dysfunction by the Numbers: 724 votes, only 27 laws enacted

Yahoo News – Annie Karni (New York Times) | Published: 12/19/2023

In 2023, the Republican-led U.S. House has passed only 27 bills that became law, despite holding a total of 724 votes. That is more voting and less lawmaking than at any other time in the last decade. The numbers reflect the challenges that have plagued Republicans and are likely to continue, and maybe even get worse, in 2024.

Judge Orders Rep. Scott Perry to Disclose 1,600 Messages to Federal Prosecutors

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 12/19/2023

A judge ruled U.S. Rep. Scott Perry must disclose to federal prosecutors more than 1,600 emails, text messages, and other communications related to the investigation into Donald Trump and his allies’ bid to subvert the 2020 election. District Court Judge James Boasberg concluded that the vast majority of the messages Perry exchanged, some with other members of Congress, some with members of the Trump administration, and some with allies outside of government, could not be shielded from prosecutors by Perry’s constitutional protections as a member of Congress.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Dem Lawmaker Sun Goes Before Ethics Committee for Intimidation, Alleged Death Threat

Arizona Mirror – Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Published: 12/19/2023

A school superintendent, a trio of Tolleson city officials, and a social worker are accusing Arizona Rep. Leezah Sun of using her position to intimidate and harass them – in one case, even going so far as making a death threat – but she maintains the allegations are false and overblown. The House Ethics Committee considered a bevy of allegations made against Sun and whether her behavior meets the Legislature’s threshold for disorderly conduct of one of its members.

California – Independent Governance Reform Group Calls for Stronger Ethics Commission

MSN – Caroline Petrow-Cohen (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/14/2023

After three years marked by scandal in City Hall, an independent government reform group is recommending a larger and more powerful Los Angeles Ethics Commission. The newly imagined commission would have seven members instead of five and would have the authority to approve city council ethics legislation. They also would be able to place proposed policy changes directly on the ballot with a supermajority vote. The revamp is part of a larger set of recommendations put forth by the Los Angeles Governance Reform Project.

California – Orange Becomes the Latest City in OC to Strengthen Lobbyist Rules

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 12/19/2023

Orange County’s largest public corruption scandal in recent history is leading some city officials in the county to tighten regulations and try to create more transparency surrounding lobbyists. Officials in the city of Orange voted to finalize an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and publicly disclose their activities in the city.

California – Can an Ethics Officer Restore Trust in Anaheim After the FBI Corruption Scandal?

Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio | Published: 12/14/2023

Elected officials in Anaheim are slated to create an ethics officer position to oversee campaign finance laws, public records requests, and a host of other good government practices in the wake of Orange County’s public corruption scandal. City council members are also expected to discuss reforming the city’s campaign finance laws next year.

California – Fresno Councilmember Under Scrutiny for Private Jet Travel with Executive

Yahoo News – Tim Sheehan (Fresno Bee) | Published: 12/18/2023

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias is under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission following an anonymous complaint over a private flight he accepted from a commercial trash contractor who does business with the city. Arias said he reimbursed Joseph Kalpakoff, president of Mid Valley Disposal, for the full cost of the flight. Arias acknowledged the reimbursement was delayed by more than the statutory 30 days in state law.

Colorado – Trump Disqualified from Colorado’s 2024 Primary Ballot by State Supreme Court

MSN – Patrick Marley and Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 12/19/2023

In a historic decision, the Colorado Supreme Court barred Donald Trump from running in the state’s presidential primary after determining he had engaged in insurrection on January 6, 2021. The ruling marked the first time a court has kept a presidential candidate off the ballot under an 1868 provision of the Constitution that prevents insurrectionists from holding office. If other states reach the same conclusion, Trump would have a difficult, if not impossible, time securing the Republican nomination and winning in November.

Florida – ‘You Can’t Morally Lead’: Florida Republicans strip party chair of power

MSN – Kimberly Leonard (Politico) | Published: 12/14/2023

The Republican Party of Florida voted to strip Chairperson Christian Ziegler of his power, reduce his salary to one dollar, and begin a three-week countdown to formally oust him from his position. Police are investigating Ziegler after a woman accused him of rape. His refusal to step down has forced party members to deal with an ongoing embarrassment ahead of the 2024 elections.

Florida – Absentee Mayor: Miami’s Francis Suarez blurs line between public duty, pursuit of wealth

Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey, Joey Flechas, Tess Riski, and Susan Merriam (Miami Herald) | Published: 12/18/2023

Mayor Francis Suarez spent at least 85 days outside Miami in 2022, including about half those days abroad, primarily in the Middle East. He is on track to be out of town just as much in 2023. He will not give any specifics about what he has been doing in the Middle East. His penchant for secrecy, including not naming his legal clients, makes it nearly impossible to identify potential conflicts-of-interest between Suarez’s public office and his much more lucrative private business endeavors.

Georgia – Rudy Giuliani Ordered to Pay $148 Million for False 2020 Election Claims

MSN – Spencer Hsu, Tom Jackman, Rachel Weiner, and Olivia Diaz (Washington Post) | Published: 12/15/2023

A jury awarded $148 million in damages to two former Georgia election workers who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation over lies he spread about them in 2020 that upended their lives with racist threats and harassment. The verdict came in a defamation lawsuit filed against Giuliani by election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, whom Donald Trump and others on the former president’s campaign and legal teams falsely accused of manipulating the absentee ballot count in Atlanta.

Georgia – Appeals Court Shoots Down Mark Meadows’ Bid to Derail Georgia Racketeering Case

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 12/18/2023

A federal appeals court denied Mark Meadows’ bid has to move his Georgia-based criminal charges into federal court, rejecting a procedural gambit that could have derailed the state’s election-related charges against not only Meadows but also Donald Trump. Meadows could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. But for now, the ruling from a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals keeps on track Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ racketeering prosecution of Trump, Meadows, and a dozen other allies for efforts connected to the bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Indiana – Supreme Court to Review Former Indiana Mayor’s Corruption Appeal

Bloomberg Law News – Lydia Wheeler | Published: 12/13/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal from former Portage Mayor James Snyder, who was convicted of bribery for accepting money from a government contractor for what he said were “consulting services.” Federal prosecutors say Snyder successfully steered two contracts for town garbage trucks worth $1.125 million to a trucking company in return for $13,000.

Kansas – A Lawsuit by Latinos in Kansas Claims Their City’s Election Method Is Unfair

MSN – Silvia Foster-Frau (Washington Post) | Published: 12/19/2023

Known for its cowboy culture and as a symbol of the Western frontier, Dodge City, Kansas, an emblem of an older, Whiter America, is now 65 percent Latino. Despite its changing demographics, the city commission – the local body in charge of enacting policies that affect its residents most directly – remains nearly all White. Every commissioner is elected city-wide rather than by just one district. Experts who study representation have found at-large election systems have frequently diluted the minority vote in towns and cities with significant non-White populations across the country.

Kansas – Kansas Supreme Court Rules Against Kris Kobach and Scott Schwab in Election Law Case

MSN – Jason Alatidd (Topeka Capital Journal) | Published: 12/15/2023

The Kansas Supreme Court sided with voter advocacy groups in a lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Schwab and Attorney General Kris Kobach challenging the legality of an election law enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature over the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly. The matter was one of two argued before the Supreme Court this year stemming from the same case. The ruling addressed the dispute over a provision of House Bill 2183 that makes it a felony crime to impersonate an election official.

Kentucky – Kentucky Supreme Court Upholds Congressional Boundaries Passed by GOP-Led Legislature

ABC News – Bruce Scheiner (Associated Press) | Published: 12/14/2023

The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld Republican-drawn boundaries for state House and congressional districts, rejecting Democratic claims the majority party’s mapmaking amounted to gerrymandering in violation of the state constitution. The court noted an alternative proposal would have resulted in nearly the same lopsided advantage for Republicans in House elections and would not have altered the GOP’s advantage in U.S. House seats from the state.

Michigan – Appeals Panel Won’t Block Trump from Michigan’s Presidential Primary Ballot

Detroit News – Beth LeBlanc | Published: 12/14/2023

The Michigan Court of Appeals will not block Donald Trump from the state’s presidential primary ballot, ruling the issue is not ripe for a decision from a three-judge panel. The decision upheld lower court rulings that found arguments Trump should be disqualified from the ballot under the Insurrection Clause were not yet relevant ahead of Michigan’s February 27 presidential primary. Opponents seeking to oust Trump from the ballot had asked judges to order Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to determine Trump’s eligibility.

Minnesota – Judge Halts Minnesota Law Barring Donations by Businesses with Level of Foreign Investors

Minnesota Public Radio – Brian Bakst | Published: 12/20/2023

A federal judge halted a Minnesota campaign finance law that aimed to curtail political donations from corporations with at least some degree of foreign ownership. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce won an injunction while a lawsuit filed in July proceeds. U.S. District Court Judge Eric Tostrud said the law could squelch speech and is therefore counter to the First Amendment. His ruling also said lawmakers failed to show how contributions or independent spending by companies with foreign shareholders results in undue influence.

Missouri – In a Statehouse Short on Space, Missouri Speaker Converted an Office into a Liquor ‘Pantry’

Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 12/20/2023

Room 306B is not the biggest office in the space-starved Missouri statehouse, where staff often work out of tiny, windowless rooms. But it has direct access to the House Lounge, where conference committees, leadership meetings, and press conferences are often held. Speaker Dean Plocher took over that space and converted it into what has been jokingly referred to as his “butler’s pantry,” a makeshift storage room stocked with liquor, beer, wine, and soda to complement the supply in his separate office.

New Mexico – Ethics Commission Affirms State Treasurer Laura Montoya Violated Campaign Finance Law

MSN – Daniel Chacón (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 12/20/2023

The State Ethics Commission upheld a hearing officer’s decision finding New Mexico Treasurer Laura Montoya violated campaign finance reporting laws by accepting $10,000 in concealed contributions. An investigation revealed Montoya received the money from a real estate developer through a PAC that acted as a conduit and then failed to report the true source of the donation.

New Mexico – Ethics Board Advances Search for Online Critic ‘Jay Baker’

Santa Fe New Mexican – Carina Julig | Published: 12/14/2023

The Ethics and Campaign Review Board ruled a complaint filed by incoming city council member Pilar Faulkner against an online critic known as “Jay Baker” could move forward but two other complaints filed after the recent election could not. Jay Baker is an anonymous Facebook poster who is a frequent critic of Mayor Alan Webber’s administration. In her complaint, Faulkner alleges the poster paid for digital ads without including identifying information required under city law.

New York – State Ethics Panel in Limbo as It Appeals Ruling It’s Unconstitutional

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 12/18/2023

The ability of New York’s ethics panel to investigate complaints and impose penalties remains in limbo after a state Supreme Court justice issued a stay on the commission’s request to continue performing its ministerial duties as it awaits an appellate court’s review of whether its structure violates the state constitution. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Marcelle determined the commission was formed and assigned enforcement powers in violation of the constitution, in part, because it was not done through a constitutional amendment that would have required a vote “of the people.”

New York – After 40 Witnesses and 43 Days of Testimony, Here’s What We Learned at Trump’s Civil Fraud Trial

MSN – Michael Sisak and Jennifer Pelz (Associated Press) | Published: 12/15/2023

New York Attorney General Letitia James has accused Donald Trump of inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals. Closing arguments are scheduled for early January. The judge has already ruled Trump is liable for making fraudulent statements, but other claims and a potential final penalty still need to be decided.  The trial offered fresh insight into Trump’s finances and gave a glimpse of Trump’s political and legal strategies as his court and campaign calendars increasingly overlap.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Rural Water Association PAC Turns Itself in for Ethics Violations

KOSU – Graycen Wheeler | Published: 12/19/2023

In 2015, the Oklahoma Rural Water Association (ORWA) formed a PAC to accept donations and support candidates. The PAC broke state rules about political contributions and recordkeeping. It agreed to pay $12,000 to Oklahoma’s general revenue fund before dissolving its assets, getting rid of its funds, and shutting down.

Oklahoma – Ethics Commission Retains Attorney Ahead of ‘Nightmare’ Guardian System Scenario

NonDoc – Michael McNutt | Published: 12/15/2023

With the plug possibly being pulled on the public website for state-level campaigns and lobbyist reporting in the middle of the 2024 election cycle, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission authorized its executive director to retain an attorney to file a claim in a contractual dispute with the system’s vendor. Representatives from Civix, a public software and services firm, notified the Ethics Commission in July that the software used to operate The Guardian System would no longer be updated after July 1, 2024.

Oregon – Portland’s Campaign Finance Program Scales Back Ahead of 2024 Election

OPB – Alex Zielinski | Published: 12/19/2023

Portland’s public campaign financing program does not have enough money to operate at full capacity ahead of the 2024 election. For some candidates, this means losing hundreds of thousands of anticipated dollars to run their campaigns. The city’s Small Donor Election program works to help candidates who lack wealthy donors by rewarding those who pledge to only accept individual campaign contributions under $250.

South Carolina – Nancy Mace Racked Up Nearly $17K in Fines as a State Rep. She Will Only Pay a Fraction of It.

Charleston Post and Courier – Nick Reynolds | Published: 12/14/2023

In the years after leaving the South Carolina House, U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace amassed thousands of dollars in unpaid ethics fines due to an old campaign account she never closed. With $16,700 in unpaid fines as of March 2023, Mace was one of the largest delinquent accounts the House Ethics Committee had on its books. Mace finally closed the account on December 12. And after years of trying, the Ethics Committee might finally collect on those fines. It will just be a lot less than they were owed.

South Dakota – New Briefs Details South Dakota Officials’ Questions About Conflict of Interest Clause

Yahoo News – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 12/14/2023

The South Dakota governor, attorney general, and Legislature sent briefs to the state Supreme Court so the justices can issue clearer guidance on the state constitution’s contract clause. Gov. Kristi Noem had requested the Supreme Court issue an advisory opinion back in October. The request came after former Sen. Jessica Castleberry resigned following an investigation that found she had improperly received COVID-19 federal stimulus loans for her daycare business, violating the state constitution.

Tennessee – Tennessee Legislature’s Harassment Policy So Far Unchanged Since Lawmaker Resignation

Yahoo News – Vivian Jones (Tennessean) | Published: 12/20/2023

No changes have been made to the Tennessee Legislature’s workplace harassment policy after a lawmaker faced no known consequences from Republican leadership following an ethics panel finding he harassed a 19-year-old intern last year. Former Rep. Scotty Campbell maintained his elected seat, committee assignments, office and staff, and his leadership position as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus until mounting public pressure led him to suddenly resign.

West Virginia – W.Va. Governor’s Efforts to Save Coal Plant Raise Conflict-of-Interest Concerns

E&E News – Scott Waldman | Published: 12/20/2023

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice went to unusual lengths four years ago to save a single coal-burning power plant. Now that he is running for the U.S. Senate, his efforts to rescue that plant are coming under new scrutiny as he tries to step onto the national stage. Justice leaned on state lawmakers in 2019 to pass an annual $12.5 million tax break for the plant, which was owned by a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. At the time, FirstEnergy was suing a Justice family coal company for $3.1 million over a contract dispute.

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