News You Can Use Digest - December 8, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

December 8, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 8, 2023


George Santos Reveals One Truth: It’s easy to abuse campaign finance laws

DNyuz – Rebecca Davis O’Brien (New York Times) | Published: 12/2/2023

Perhaps no federal officeholder in modern American history has been accused of ignoring, testing, or breaking as many aspects of campaign finance law so flagrantly, in such a short span of time, as George Santos has. But his case, while sensational, illustrates the weaknesses of the system, and its potential for abuse. The system, which largely relies on campaigns and political committees to self-report thousands of donations, expenditures, loans, and refunds, has been left wide open for anyone willing to mislead, experts said.

Doug Burgum Suspends Long-Shot Presidential Campaign

MSN – Meryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 12/4/2023

Long-shot Republican presidential candidate and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum suspended his campaign after failing to gain momentum with voters in a crowded primary field. Burgum pitched himself as a job creator uniquely qualified to build the economy and bridge connections between small towns and big cities, but that platform never found traction with a base that has favored Donald Trump as Burgum mostly avoided attacking the front-runner.

Special Counsel Alleges Trump ‘Sent’ Supporters on Path to Jan. 6 Violence

MSN – Spencer Hsu and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2023

Federal prosecutors accused Donald Trump of a pattern of lying about elections and encouraging violence, saying he “sent” supporters to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to criminally block the election results. Prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith went further than they did in their indictment in attempting to tie Trump to the riot. They said at Trump’s criminal trial they intend to introduce evidence of his acts before the 2020 election, and his subsequent alleged threats, to establish his motive, intent, and preparation for attempting to subvert Joe Biden’s election victory.

Senate Democrats Vote to Subpoena Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo in Supreme Court Ethics Probe as GOP Storms Out

MSN – Riley Beggin and John Fritze (USA Today) | Published: 11/30/2023

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena a wealthy donor and a legal activist with ties to conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices after partisan bickering ended with Republicans storming out of the hearing as the final vote was tallied. Democrats requested details of gifts, transportation, lodging, travel, and private club access provided to justices by billionaire Harlan Crow that appear to have been tied in some cases to conservative legal activist Leonard Leo.

House Expels New York Rep. George Santos. It’s Just the Sixth Expulsion in the Chamber’s History

MSN – Kevin Frekking (Associated Press) | Published: 12/1/2023

The U.S. House voted to expel Rep. George Santos after a critical ethics report on his conduct that accused him of converting campaign donations for his own use. He was just the sixth member in the chamber’s history to be ousted by colleagues. The first-term lawmaker initially was celebrated as an up-and-comer after he flipped a district from Democrats last year and helped Republicans win control of the House. But soon after, troubles began.

Pro-DeSantis Super PAC Fires CEO Amid Turmoil

MSN – Michael Scherer and Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 12/3/2023

Never Back Down, a super PAC that has overseen much of Ron DeSantis’s presidential operation, fired its chief executive officer less than two weeks after the previous chief executive resigned. It was the latest upheaval as fighting between the Florida governor’s allies has erupted into public view. The chairperson of Never Back Down, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, also resigned.

Trump Pardoned Them. Now They’re Helping Him Return to Power.

MSN – Beth Reinhard, Manuel Roig-Franzia, and Clara Ence Morse (Washington Post) | Published: 12/2/2023

Before Donald Trump, no president used his constitutional clemency powers to free or forgive so many people who could be useful to his future political efforts. A review of Trump’s 238 clemency orders found dozens of recipients have gone on to plug his 2024 candidacy through social media and national interviews, contribute money to his front-running bid for the Republican nomination, or disseminate his false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Trump Not Immune from Criminal, Civil Liability Over Jan. 6, Judges Rule

MSN – Rachel Weiner and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 12/1/2023

Donald Trump has no absolute immunity from civil or criminal consequences for his attempts to stay in power following the 2020 election, two federal courts ruled, a pair of decisions that set the stage for a legal battle over presidential power probably headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hours after an appellate court ruled Trump could be sued by police officers over injuries they suffered during the riot, the judge overseeing his criminal case on election subversion charges ruled he had no protection from prosecution as a former president.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Ousted Speaker, Announces He’s Leaving Congress

NBC News – Scott Wong and Sahil Kapur | Published: 12/6/2023

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who this fall became the first speaker to be ousted from power in the middle of a congressional term, said he will resign from office at the end of December. His exit is a blow to his successor, Speaker Mike Johnson, and House Republicans, further cutting the already narrow GOP majority and making passing legislation in 2024 even more challenging. For McCarthy, winning the speaker’s gavel in January after a grueling floor fight marked the pinnacle of a long political career in Sacramento and Washington.

Congressional Lawmakers, Advocacy Groups Urge FEC Regulation on Deceptive AI

OpenSecrets – Harshawn Ratanpal and Jimmy Cloutier | Published: 11/30/2023

More than 50 lawmakers and 30 organizations urged the FEC to regulate the use of deceptive artificial intelligence (AI) in campaign ads in support of a petition from Public Citizen. While the Federal Election Campaign Act does not address the use of deceptive AI explicitly, federal campaign finance law does prohibit politicians and those working for them from posing as another campaign. Public Citizen has argued the provision on “fraudulent misrepresentation” should apply to AI-generated content that falsely shows a federal candidate saying or doing something they did not.

China-Backed DeSantis Donor Hires Top GOP Lobbyist, Foreign Ties Not Disclosed

Yahoo News – Ben Wieder and Theo Hockstader (Miami Herald) | Published: 12/5/2023

The lobbying registration form filed by Ballard Partners for iGas USA failed to indicate iGas is partially owned by a state-controlled Chinese company, as required by law. Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, lobbyists are required to indicate whether any foreign entity holds at least a 20 percent stake in the company they are lobbying for. But this rule is frequently ignored by lobbyists, according to Craig Holman, the lobbyist for Public Citizen.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – New Complaint Alleges Anchorage Church Illegally Aided Campaign Against Ranked-Choice Voting

Anchorage Daily News – Iris Samuels | Published: 12/4/2023

Supporters of Alaska’s voting system are alleging its opponents have again violated the law in their quest to repeal the system by ballot initiative. In a third complaint filed by Alaskans for Better Elections to the state Public Offices Commission, it alleges opponents of ranked-choice voting are part of an “intentional conspiracy to violate the law” by not disclosing their funding and expenses, including the involvement of an Anchorage Christian organization called Wellspring Ministries.

Alaska – Committee Dismisses Complaints That 2 Alaska Lawmakers Committed Ethics Violations

KTOO – Andrew Kitchenman (Alaska Beacon) | Published: 12/5/2023

The body charged with policing the ethics of members of the Alaska House dismissed complaints alleging two members improperly allowed an Alaska Right to Life representative to misuse state resources. The complaints said current Rep. David Eastman and former Rep. Christopher Kurka violated the ethics law during a visit to the state Capitol by Pat Martin. The complaints alleged Martin was an “unregistered lobbyist” for Alaska Right to Life. Martin’s official title with the group is outreach and development director.

Arizona – Goldwater Says Ballot Measure Site Is ‘Resource to Educate.’ Others Disagree

MSN – Stacy Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/6/2023

A spokesperson for the Goldwater Institute says its new website is “a resource to educate Arizonans about the ballot initiative process.” That resource educates Arizonans not about existing ballot initiative processes, however, but about procedures that would be put in place if a majority of voters approve a question on their November ballots. The website falls into a murky area of law when it comes to backing ballot measures, one that is often sorted out through legal challenges. It also signals the sometimes behind-the-scenes and often carefully crafted push by special interests to sway public opinion in the 2024 election cycle.

Arkansas – At University of Arkansas, a State Law Stifles Pro-Palestinian Speakers

Buffalo News – Vimal Patel (New York Times) | Published: 11/22/2023

Nathan Thrall, a Jewish American writer whose work strongly supports Palestinian rights, was invited to speak to students at the University of Arkansas about a new book. But there was one catch: to be paid for his visit, Thrall was told he had to pledge, according to a 2017 state law, that he would not boycott Israel. He declined. When news broke that Thrall would not sign the pledge, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders applauded the university. At college campuses around the country, students and faculty have been engulfed in bitter debates over students’ pro-Palestinian speech.

California – LA City Council Votes to Take First Step in Creating ‘Office of Compliance’

Los Angeles Daily News – City News Service | Published: 12/1/2023

The Los Angeles City Council took a step to formally establish an Office of Compliance that would proactively assist council members with identifying and avoiding potential conflicts-of-interest. The council requested a detailed report that would guide council members in the creation of an Office of Compliance to ensure higher standards of ethics. Council members must follow ethics rules and laws such as those imposed by the city charter, and state and federal laws. According to the council members, those standards have increased and grown in complexity over the years, making compliance more difficult.

California – Mayor Bass Announces Stricter Ethics Rules for L.A. City Staff

MSN – City News Service | Published: 12/1/2023

Staff working in Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’s office will be expected to abide by new, stricter ethics rules. In early November, the mayor also adopted restrictions on charitable donations from registered city lobbyists and city developers to the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles and the Getty House Foundation.

California – S.F. Corruption Scandal: Ex-parole officer going to prison for bribes to Mohammed Nuru

MSN – St. John Barned-Smith (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 11/30/2023

A former state parole officer in San Francisco will spend six months in prison after pleading guilty to passing $20,000 in bribes to former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru to convince Nuru to hire an engineer. Ken Hong Wong had hoped to avoid jail time, but U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick noted Wong’s criminal acts “tarnished” a lengthy and distinguished history of public service. “It’s one of the sleaziest and lowest things that somebody could do,” Orrick said as he handed down his sentence.

California – Irvine Leaders Consider Potential Reforms to Its Lobbying Laws

Orange County Register – Hanna Kang | Published: 12/6/2023

Irvine leaders are talking about changes to how the city’s lobbyists are governed, which officials say has largely stayed the same for nearly two decades. City Attorney Jeffrey Melching offered a series of potential proposals recently, including lowering the compensation threshold at which an individual is required to register as a lobbyist.

California – What Could Campaign Finance Reform Look Like in Two OC Cities?

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 12/4/2023

Officials in a couple Orange County cities are contemplating tightening the rules on campaign spending amid the continued fallout of one of the largest corruption scandals in county history. The debate is taking off in the largest city, Anaheim, but also likely going to hit one of the county’s smallest cities, Stanton, which neighbors Anaheim but has gone untouched by the scandal.

Colorado – Colorado Supreme Court Justices Question Whether the State Can Bar Trump from the 2024 Ballot

Associated Press News – Nicholas Riccardi and Christine Fernando | Published: 12/6/2023

Colorado Supreme Court justices sharply questioned both sides about whether they could exclude former President Trump from the 2024 ballot in a case that seeks to upend his bid for a second term by claiming the Constitution’s insurrection clause bars him from another run for the White House. At issue is the wording of the clause itself, whether the courts have a right to intervene at this stage if Trump has otherwise met the basic requirements to appear on Colorado’s 2024 primary ballot, and whether Trump incited an insurrection when his supporters stormed the Capitol.

Colorado – Divided by Politics, a Colorado Town Mends Its Broken Bones

DNyuz – Jonathan Weisman (New York Times) | Published: 11/30/2023

In April 2020, Shane Fuhrman, a progressive lawyer from New York, beat the longtime fire chief Gilbert Archuleta by 10 votes to become the new mayor of Silverton, Colorado. To supporters, Fuhrman represented progress. To his opponents in the town of 796 residents, he would make Silverton into the incarnation of Aspen, with staggering housing prices, luxury outposts, and billionaire denizens. Their skepticism turned to anger when he declared the town council would stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance until further notice. But Silverton came back together again.

Florida – Lobbying Restrictions Get Go-Ahead from Federal Appeals Court – Jim Saunders (News Service of Florida) | Published: 12/4/2023

A federal appeals court allowed Florida to enforce, with one exception, a 2018 constitutional amendment imposing restrictions on lobbying while a legal battle continues to play out. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved a request for a partial stay of an injunction that District Court Judge Beth Bloom issued this summer to block the restrictions statewide. The amendment prevented state and local officials from lobbying other government bodies while in office.

Georgia – Georgia County Signs Up to Use Voter Database Backed by Election Deniers

DNyuz – Alexandra Berzon and Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 12/1/2023

A suburban county in Georgia agreed to use a new voter information database endorsed by the election denial movement, a move that defied warnings from voting rights groups, election security experts, and state election officials. Columbia County, a heavily Republican county outside Augusta, is the first in the country known to have agreed to use the platform, called EagleAI. Its supporters claim the system will make it easier to purge the rolls of ineligible voters.

Kentucky – How Wealthy Donors Legally Gave Even More to Democratic Party During Beshear’s Campaign

Kentucky Lantern – Tom Loftus | Published: 12/6/2023

Ahead of the November governor’s race, London Mayor Randall Weddle and other Kentuckians gave big to a type of political committee that allows wealthy donors to make massive contributions. Weddle, whose earlier excess contributions to Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection effort had drawn regulatory scrutiny, contributed $550,000 to a national Democratic Party committee known as the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund (DGVF). Weddle’s was by far the largest contribution reported by the DGVF during the general election season, but within the legal limits of how much a person can give to such a committee.

Louisiana – Louisiana Ethics Board Accuses Former LSU Professor of Unlawful Lobbying

Louisiana Illuminator – Piper Hutchinson | Published: 12/6/2023

The Board of Ethics alleges David Sobek, a former Louisiana State University political science professor, instructed a graduate assistant with whom he was reportedly having an affair, to investigate material in courses his “estranged wife” taught. The graduate assistant was allegedly told to look for anything that touches on critical race theory (CRT) and to distribute that information to legislators who might favor anti-CRT legislation. Louisiana law prohibits state employees acting in their official capacity or on behalf of their agency from lobbying the Legislature.

Maine – Documents Reveal NextEra’s Hidden Attempts to Derail CMP’s Transmission Line Corridor

Maine Public Radio – Steve Mistler | Published: 11/30/2023

NextEra Energy’s attempts to derail a transmission corridor through western Maine involved a significant secret donation to the state Democratic Party in 2018 as well as the 2019 financing of a group that helped organize a referendum to scuttle the project. NextEra’s financing of a 2021 referendum was publicly disclosed, but the documents released reveal how consultants hired by the company originally attempted to defeat the New England Clean Energy Contract by secretly financing two groups that became targets of investigations by the Maine ethics commission.

Mississippi – Gov. Reeves Mum on Health Care Meetings, Claims No Documents Exist

Mississippi Today – Devna Bose | Published: 12/6/2023

As the state’s hospital crisis continues, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has held meetings on health care, but his office refuses to say what they are about. His staffers also claim there are no official documents for those meetings, despite internal correspondence that indicates otherwise and despite Reeves proposing detailed health policy changes. Several experts, including a former governor, say the lack of documentation for meetings and the lack of detail on Reeves’ calendar is unusual. One national expert called it “bad practice.”

Missouri – Pot Company Owner in Legal Fight with Missouri Hosts Fundraiser for AG Andrew Bailey

St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 12/7/2023

The co-owner of a Missouri cannabis company hosted a fundraiser at his home for Attorney General Andrew Bailey at the same time his business is involved in a lawsuit against the state. Bailey is overseeing the case involving a company that lost its license to operate over allegations of problems with its products. Although Bailey’s campaign says it is unaware it received contributions from the host of the November event, the incident is similar to one in which Bailey cited a conflict-of-interest and withdrew from a case involving a campaign donor.

Nevada – Pro-Trump Electors Indicted in Nevada, the Third State to Issue Charges

MSN – Amy Gardner and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2023

A Nevada grand jury charged six Republicans who claimed to be presidential electors in 2020 and submitted certificates to Congress falsely asserting that Donald Trump had won the election in their state. Nevada is the third state after Georgia and Michigan to seek charges against the pro-Trump activists who met and cast ballots for the then-president on December 14, 2020, despite Joe Biden’s victory.

New York – Bill That Would Close Judicial Lobbying Loophole Remains in Play

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 12/4/2023

Legislation intended to close a loophole that allows those seeking to influence the outcome of judicial nominations without state oversight is under review by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, but it remains unclear whether she will sign the measure into law. Judicial nominations at all levels of government have become increasingly politicized and the lawmakers empowered to approve or reject candidates for the bench have arguably grown more demanding that the judges they support adhere to their political ideologies.

New York – N.Y. Appeals Court Reinstates Trump Gag Order in Civil Fraud Case

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 11/30/2023

A New York appeals court reinstated a limited gag order on Donald Trump, preventing him from making public comments about court staffers in a civil business fraud case brought by the state. The court upheld Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron’s set of orders that prevented Trump and his defense team from mentioning court staffers, including a law clerk who has been the subject of antisemitic and other threats and messages since the case began.

New York – Eric Adams Donor Claims Boss Reimbursed Campaign Contribution Tied to Event Now Under FBI Investigation

The City – George Joseph, Bianca Pallaro, and Rosalind Adams | Published: 12/7/2023

A donor to Eric Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign said their boss reimbursed them for a contribution recorded at an event that is at the center of the federal probe into whether the campaign conspired with the Turkish government to accept unlawful foreign donations. Such a reimbursement would constitute an illegal straw donation, enabling the true source of the funding to remain unknown to evade campaign finance laws that set limits on who can give and how much they can contribute.

Ohio – Sam Randazzo, Ohio’s Former Top Utilities Regulator, Charged with Bribery, Embezzlement Crimes

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer and Andrew Tobias (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 12/4/2023

Ohio’s former top utility regulator, Sam Randazzo, was indicted on federal bribery and fraud charges. The indictment says Randazzo accepted a $4.3 million bribe in exchange for helping FirstEnergy secure its policy priorities, including helping with House Bill 6, the law at the center of a federal bribery probe. In one instance, Randazzo pushed to cancel a review the company believed would hurt its bottom line by forcing it to reduce the rates it charged customers. If convicted, Randazzo could face up to 20 years in prison.

Ohio – Friend of Ex-Councilman Jeff Pastor Admits Creating Nonprofit to ‘Sanitize’ Bribe Payments

MSN – Kevin Grasha and Sharon Coolidge (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 12/5/2023

A friend of former Cincinnati City Councilperson Jeff Pastor admitted creating a nonprofit designed solely to “sanitize” tens thousands of dollars in bribes. In one instance, Pastor told undercover agents posing as investors he would vote in favor of their projects and agreed to accept $15,000 for his support. Pastor said he could receive the money through Marshall’s nonprofit, “Ummah Strength.”

Rhode Island – As More Sexual Harassment Allegations Come to Light, McKee’s Ethics Appointee Withdraws. What We Know.

MSN – Katherine Gregg (Providence Journal) | Published: 12/1/2023

As details of multiple sexual harassment complaints resurfaced, Gov. Dan McKee’s appointee to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission resigned, with the governor’s office acknowledging the “vetting process was not adequate.” The announcement came after John Marion, head of Common Cause Rhode Island, called on McKee to “take another look” at his appointment of Bryant Da Cruz, a former South Kingstown Council member who admitted to town officials his behavior was “unacceptable” after six women accused him of sexual harassment.

South Dakota – Yes, Sioux Falls Councilors Can Accept Gifts, but an Updated Ethics Policy Now Clarifies How

Yahoo News – Trevor Mitchell (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 12/6/2023

The Sioux Falls City Council approved an update to the ethics ordinance. Rules about gifts, including the payment of travel expenses, are clarified in the new ordinance. Employees or officers of the city could receive “gift of travel, lodging, registration fees, entrance fees, food and drink, and other incidental expenses” as long as it is related to a “widely attended gathering” related to the duties of the recipient or the city’s legislative or policy interests.

Virginia – Newport News Drafts Rules, Ethics Handbook After Council Credit Card Misuse

Virginian-Pilot – Josh Janney | Published: 12/2/2023

Newport News City Council plans to adopt a handbook that includes a code of ethics and will guide council conduct and codify roles and responsibilities. The handbook was suggested by Mayor Phillip Jones after concerns were raised about council members’ misuse of city-issued credit cards earlier in the year. Jones said the handbook would help clarify what is an allowed expenditure.

Washington – Candidate Loses by Single Vote After He Didn’t Cast a Ballot for Himself

MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2023

Ryan Roth mailed his ballot in a few days ahead of the November 7 election, unaware he was casting the most consequential vote of his life. Having run a four-month campaign to convince others he should serve on the Rainier City Council, Roth voted for himself. Roth did not know he was casting the decisive ballot in a race that would be determined by one vote. His opponent, Damion Green, had chosen not to vote for himself in the election, which would take nearly a month for officials to sort out.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Trump Electors Settle Lawsuit, Agree Biden Won in 2020

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2023

In a legal settlement, the 10 Republicans who signed official-looking paperwork falsely purporting Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2020 have agreed to withdraw their inaccurate filings, acknowledge Joe Biden won the presidency, and not serve as presidential electors in 2024 or in any election where Trump is on the ballot. The settlement comes as Republicans in two other states face criminal charges for falsely claiming to be presidential electors, and investigations are underway in three additional states.

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