News You Can Use Digest - February 10, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

February 10, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 10, 2023


2016 Trump Campaign in $450,000 Lawsuit Settlement Voids Worker Non-Disclosure Pacts
MSN – Jack Stebbins (CNBC) | Published: 2/4/2023

Former President Trump’s 2016 campaign, as part of a $450,000 settlement of a class-action lawsuit by a former campaign aide, agreed to void non-disclosure agreements that hundreds of campaign workers and volunteers had signed as a condition of their work. The deal ended a federal lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign aide Jessica Denson. The settlement potentially opens the door for campaign workers to publicly discuss events related to the 2016 race, and to Trump himself, without fear of potentially financially ruinous legal retaliation by him.

Despite Fears Agency Could Be Crippled, House Fills Ethics Posts
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 2/7/2023

Even though watchdog groups predicted House Republicans’ changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) could sideline it in the 118th Congress, they now say their worst fears appear unlikely. They credit House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries for swiftly filling Democratic slots on OCE’s board and say they are now optimistic about the office’s ability to operate. Still, the state of ethics enforcement in the current Congress remains somewhat uncertain.

Despite Prior Sexual Harassment Probe, Executive Hired to Senior Federal Job
MSN – Lisa Rein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/3/2023

The agency that sets personnel and hiring policy across the federal government hired a senior leader last year who was found in a previous job to have sexually harassed two women who were his subordinates. Frederick Tombar III, hired in October as second-in-command in the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement services division, resigned as executive director of the Louisiana Housing Corp. in 2015 amid an internal probe by a state agency that concluded he harassed the women. The state also paid $89,500 to one of his accusers in a settlement after she sued.

DNC Approves Biden Plan to Remake 2024 Calendar but Hurdles Remain
MSN – Dylan Wells and Tyler Pager (Washington Post) | Published: 2/4/2023

Democrats voted overwhelmingly to remake the party’s presidential nominating calendar, embracing President Biden’s push for South Carolina to be the first state to hold its contest in 2024 and replacing Iowa amid calls for greater racial, geographic, and economic diversity in the process. The move by members of the Democratic National Committee was long expected, but it does not guarantee the calendar will ultimately be enacted as designed.

Federal Election Commission Hikes Contribution Limits Ahead of 2024 Election Cycle
OpenSecrets – Taylor Giorno | Published: 2/2/2023

The FEC announced new contribution limits for the 2024 election cycle. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 established limits for donations by individuals to candidates and national party committees. The FEC increases the caps every odd-numbered year to reflect changes in inflation, which skyrocketed in 2022 to the highest level in four decades and the unprecedented increase to the donation limit reflects the historic rise in prices.

Feds Probing Santos’ Role in Service Dog Charity Scheme
MSN – Jacqueline Sweet (Politico) | Published: 1/31/2023

The FBI is investigating U.S. Rep. George Santos’s role in an alleged GoFundMe scheme involving a disabled U.S. Navy veteran’s dying service dog. Richard Osthoff said Santos used his plight to raise $3,000 for life-saving surgery for the dog, then disappeared with the funds. Attorney Joshua Schiller said the veteran’s encounter with Santos could offer prosecutors a quick way to file criminal charges even though they are also investigating possible financial crimes.

Gavels for Top House Committees Don’t Always Come Cheap
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 2/9/2023

Winning control of the most sought-after committees in the House can come with a hefty price tag – in party dues. The eight lawmakers atop the four panels dubbed “A” committees transferred more than $5.2 million from their own political accounts to their respective parties’ campaign arms in the 2022 cycle, according to Issue One, a group that advocates for overhauling campaign finance laws. Although chairperson races and committee assignments do not merely come down to who raised the most money for the party, it can help members move up the hierarchies of the House if they spread campaign money generously.

Heckling of Biden Reflects a New, Coarser Normal for House G.O.P.
Yahoo News – Karoun Demirjian (New York Times) | Published: 2/8/2023

The shouts of “liar,” “that’s not true,” and at least one expletive lobbed at President Biden during his State of the Union address dwarfed outbursts during previous such speeches, most of which have been interrupted by a single disturbance, if at all. The display reflected the ethos that has come to define the Republican-led House, where an emboldened right wing that styles itself after former President Trump is unapologetic about its antipathy for Biden and eager to show it in attention-grabbing ways.

Jordan Fires Off First Subpoenas Against Biden Admin
MSN – Jordain Carney and Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 2/3/2023

House Judiciary Committee Chairperson Jim Jordan issued the first subpoenas of the GOP’s new majority, demanding records about certain Biden administration decisions regarding threats against school officials during the Covid-19 pandemic. Jordan sent subpoenas to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, requesting a laundry list of documents by March 1. The subpoenas are linked to a long-held GOP claim that federal agencies “targeted” parents.

Koch Network to Back Alternative to Trump After Sitting Out Recent Primaries
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf (Washington Post) | Published: 2/5/2023

The network of donors and activist groups led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch will oppose Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination, mounting a direct challenge to the former president’s campaign to win back the White House. The move marks the most notable example to date of an overt and coordinated effort from within conservative circles to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination for a third straight presidential election. Some Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump after disappointing midterm elections in which he drew blame for elevating flawed candidates and polarizing ideas.

Santos’ Unusual $199.99 Campaign Expenses Are Putting Scrutiny on His Longtime Treasurer
MSN – Fredreka Schouten, Kara Scannell, and Gregory Krieg (CNN) | Published: 2/7/2023

U.S. Rep. George Santos and former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin shared a striking set of unusual expenses in their campaign finance reports: 21 payments on a single day that each total exactly $199.99, which is one penny below the figure at which campaigns are required to keep receipts, and all went to anonymous recipients. The Zeldin and Santos congressional campaigns had one more thing in common: they shared a treasurer, Nancy Marks. She resigned from the Santos campaign recently, but the reports Marks filed are the subject of FEC complaints centered on allegations that records were falsified in violation of federal law.

Supreme Court Justices Discussed, But Did Not Agree on Code of Conduct
MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 2/9/2023

Although U.S. Supreme Court justices say they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges, the lack of an ethics code has become a prominent complaint on Capitol Hill. In 2019, Justice Elena Kagan told a congressional committee that Chief Justice John Roberts was “seriously” studying the issue. But a discussion among the justices to establish a code failed to produce agreement, people familiar with the matter said. The inertia has frustrated critics, whose demands for reform have intensified.

From the States and Municipalities

Arkansas Ex-State Senator Hutchinson Sentenced to 46 Months in Federal Prison
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Dale Ellis | Published: 2/3/2023

Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, the son of ex-U.S. Rep. Tim Hutchinson and nephew of former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison after being convicted of bribery and filing a false tax return. He was also ordered to pay $355,535.10 in restitution. Hutchinson admitted to accepting more than $157,000 from a businessperson disguised as legal fees to advance legislation.

California Calls Intensify for Anaheim’s City Leaders to Keep Promises to Root Out Corruption
Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio and Hosam Elattar | Published: 2/9/2023

Resident watchdogs, activists, community leaders, and the Orange County Democratic Party are all pushing back on Anaheim City Council members, calling on them to stay the course on a contracted corruption investigation into City Hall instead of paring down efforts stemming from a scandal that surfaced last year. The scandal triggered the mayor’s resignation and ended up terminating a proposed stadium deal between the city and the Los Angeles Angels.

California LA Council’s Governance Reform Committee Recommends Stricter Lobbying Rules
MSN – City News Service | Published: 2/6/2023

In a step toward reforming Los Angeles’s lobbying ordinance for the first time in decades, the city council’s ad hoc committee on reform recommended approval of an city Ethics Commission report that would place stricter rules on people or organizations looking to impact policy. The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance has not been comprehensively updated since its adoption in 1994, with two prior recommendations by the ethics agency expiring after the council did not act on them. But the racist audio involving some council members spurred the creation of the special committee, which took up the May 2022 recommendations.

Florida Amid Attacks from DeSantis, AP African American Studies Course Is Updated
MSN – Nick Anderson and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 2/1/2023

After debate on how to construct a class focused on the Black experience, the College Board finalized a plan for its new Advanced Placement course in African American studies that seeks to immerse students in Black history and culture without shying from fraught topics of race and racism in a way that until now has mostly been available only on college campuses. The College Board denied any suggestion it watered down the course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attacked an earlier draft as progressive “indoctrination.” But the document now omits mention of certain left-leaning figures who appeared in a previous version.

Florida Brevard Consultant Failed to Report Political Contributions, Gambled with PAC Funds
Yahoo News – Eric Rogers (Florida Today) | Published: 2/8/2023

A Brevard County political consultant is facing a long list of election law violations over electioneering and a defunct PAC he used during the 2020 election cycle. Florida Elections Commission investigators said Robert Burns failed to file months of campaign finance reports for his short-lived PAC, Friends of Florida, failed to disclose tens of thousands in contributions, regularly spent money the PAC did not have, and failed to properly disclose political ads paid for with PAC funds.

Florida Fort Lauderdale Follies: City Hall drama gets Seinfeldesque
MSN – Susannah Bryan (South Florida Sun-Sentinel) | Published: 2/8/2023

It was not a Seinfeld episode, but it sounded like one as Fort Lauderdale City Commission members Steve Glassman and John Herbst faced off at a meeting. Glassman needled Herbst over how many hours the city attorney’s office has spent drafting opinions for him on whether a commissioner can accept invites from lobbyists and organizations to pricey and not-so-pricey events without breaking ethics laws.

Hawaii Hawaii Government Transparency Bills Clear a Key Hurdle in The Legislature
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 2/7/2023

Four bills that would ban lawmakers from taking donations while in session and increase transparency in Hawaii’s campaign finance system were unanimously approved with bipartisan support in the state House. The bills are the first batch of those aimed at reforming government transparency and ethics in the wake of felony charges against two former lawmakers who took bribes from a businessperson. They now go to the Senate. Gov. Josh Green signaled support for many of the transparency measures being considered this session and said he planned to sign those that came to his desk.

Illinois New Illinois Supreme Court Justices Got Major Boost from Hidden Spending by Democratic Group
MSN – Ray Long and Rick Pearson (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 2/5/2023

All for Justice spent $7.3 million on the 2022 Illinois Supreme Court races to help expand the Democratic majority on the court. But the PAC failed to follow disclosure guidelines mandated by state election law, which meant its spending went undisclosed until months after the election. In contrast, independent expenditure groups that funded the Republican candidates filed the required ongoing spending reports. Although All for Justice did not file timely expenditure reports, it did file the mandated reports on money it was taking in from donors, indicating an awareness of the campaign finance laws.

Kansas Kansas Bill Would Limit Subpoena Power of Ethics Commission Amid Ongoing Investigation
MSN – Jenna Barackman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 2/6/2023

A new bill would limit the subpoena power of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. It would require the commission to verify the legitimacy of a claim and determine probable cause before issuing a subpoena. The panel would be unable to use subpoenas to determine whether probable cause exists. The legislation comes after the commission’s executive director, Mark Skoglund, subpoenaed Republican officials last year in relation to an investigation into possible campaign finance violations.

Maryland Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates Scraps Plans for Foundation While in Office
Baltimore Banner – Justin Fenton and Dylan Segelbaum | Published: 2/8/2023

Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates is scrapping plans for a nonprofit foundation that was expected to accept contributions from donors it would not have to disclose under the law to pay for events while he served as the city’s top prosecutor. Since its formation, Building Bridges for a Better Baltimore Foundation, a 501(c)(4) group, has been mainly a vehicle to fund Bates’ inauguration events. Though state law now requires the governor to disclose donors to inaugural committees, it does not cover other public officials, such as state’s attorneys.

Massachusetts Limits on Super PACs Stump Top Massachusetts Court
Courthouse News Service – Thomas Harrison | Published: 2/6/2023

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in a case concerning a proposed initiative petition filed in June 2022 and rejected in September. It would have limited contributions to super PACs to $5,000 in a calendar year. Justice Scott Kafker referred to the matter as an “incredibly novel, difficult constitutional issue that probably will get us smacked down by the U.S. Supreme Court” and wondered whether it was appropriate for the state’s highest court to get involved at this stage.

Michigan Feds Investigate Ex-Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson for Alleged Bribery in Pot Licensing
Gwinnett Daily Post – Robert Snell and Craig Mauger (Detroit News) | Published: 2/1/2023

FBI agents and a federal grand jury have spent more than two years investigating whether former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson and others received bribes in return for awarding state licenses to operate medical marijuana facilities. The probe has the potential to raise new questions about financial influences over Lansing while Republicans controlled the Legislature and how the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry was shaped.

Minnesota Appeals Court Greenlights Donation Investigation into GOP Group
Yahoo News – Roger Sollenberger (Daily Beast) | Published: 2/8/2023

A federal appeals court said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison can pursue his investigation into Republican online fundraising giant WinRed over an allegedly deceptive marketing scheme that bilked unwitting donors out of untold amounts of money. The Eighth Circuit of Appeals rejected WinRed’s argument that federal campaign finance laws preempt state attorneys general from enforcing state-level consumer protection laws.

Minnesota Our Streets Minneapolis Must Register Lobbyists
KMSP – Tom Lyden | Published: 2/2/2023

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board announced a settlement with Our Streets Minneapolis for failing since 2018 to register some of its employees as lobbyists. Five employees have now registered as lobbyists, while Our Streets Minneapolis will register as a group that engages in lobbying and pay a civil penalty of $4,000. In a response to the complaint, Brian Dillon, an attorney for Our Streets, wrote that the group “Now recognized that it recently began engaging in regulated lobbying activity without knowing that it had done so.”

Missouri Records Point to Lacy Clay and Brandon Bosley in St. Louis Corruption Scandal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jacob Barker and Austin Huguelet | Published: 2/6/2023

Federal officials just sent three former members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to prison for taking bribes from a gas station owner. But recently released court documents indicate the FBI provided cash to an informant who offered bribes to at least two other public officials: former U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay and current Alderman Brandon Bosley. The revelations spring from new details sprinkled through an unsealed search warrant application.

Montana Helena Attorney Gallus Prepares for Confirmation Hearing as Montana Commissioner of Political Practices
KTVH – Jonathan Ambarian | Published: 2/6/2023

Gov. Greg Gianforte’s choice to be Montana’s commissioner of political practices has already started his new job as the state Senate prepares to consider his confirmation. Chris Gallus has been at work since January 23, several days after Gianforte appointed him to the position. Gallus previously served as legal counsel for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, then started his own legal practice – often working on campaign-related matters, like cases involving ballot measures. He also previously worked as a lobbyist.

New Jersey Ethical Questions Raised as Murphy Extends Reach at Port Authority with New Nominations
MSN – Colleen Wilson (Bergen Record) | Published: 2/6/2023

Gov. Phil Murphy sent three nominations, including two top staffers, for the state Senate to consider for roles on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Some have raised questions about whether two officials in the governor’s office can sit on the Port Authority board and if there is a conflict-of-interest for the mayor of Elizabeth, a city where authority business and property is located.

New Mexico Legislation Could Be Fast-Tracked to Resolve Simmering Ethics Law Disagreement
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 2/7/2023

New Mexico lawmakers are poised to move quickly to pass legislation clarifying their ability to represent constituents in dealings with state agencies, after a dust-up over the practical implications of a nearly 60-year-old state ethics law. The filing of a Senate bill was prompted by a recent state Ethics Commission advisory opinion that concluded lawmakers could run afoul of the Governmental Conduct Act by writing letters on legislative stationery to state agencies on behalf of constituents, or by making references to their role as legislators.

New Mexico Legislators Take Aim at Secrecy Rule in Harassment Complaints
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 2/1/2023

New Mexico legislators took a step toward ending the one-sided confidentiality law that keeps people who file a harassment complaint at the Capitol from speaking about their case. Under the current system, a lawmaker accused of harassment is free to comment in public, but the person who lodged the complaint cannot, unless there is a finding of probable cause after an investigation. Lobbyist Marianna Anaya, who accused a prominent state senator last year of sexual harassment and abusive behavior, said the secrecy provision could interfere with a person’s ability to speak to family members and seek out other support.

New York N.Y. Prosecutors Group Says Former Trump Investigator Violated Ethics with Book
MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 2/3/2023

An association of New York state prosecutors said a former member of the Manhattan district attorney’s office who investigated Donald Trump violated ethical standards by writing a book about the case during an ongoing criminal investigation. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has previously said former investigator Mark Pomerantz may have broken a law that bars prosecutors from disclosing grand jury material by writing “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.”

North Carolina Appeals Court Backs N.C. Attorney General in Battle to Avoid Criminal Libel Prosecution
Yahoo News – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 2/8/2023

A federal appeals court sided with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein in his bid to avoid prosecution under a state law criminalizing “derogatory” statements related to candidates. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals did not outright prohibit a North Carolina district attorney from going forward with a highly unusual prosecution of Stein over his claims related to a rival’s handling of rape test kits. But the appeals court’s decision makes it highly likely a lower federal court will preclude such an action.

North Carolina NC May Loosen Sanctions for Political Campaigns and PACs After First-Time Violations
MSN – Dan Kane (Charlotte Observer) | Published: 2/7/2023

The State Board of Elections is considering a policy that would allow some campaigns and PACs to keep smaller donations that violate campaign finance rules for first-time infractions. The board is soliciting public comments on the plan. Under the policy, the board would settle cases involving prohibited donations or spending of less than $1,000 per election cycle. First-time rule-breakers would receive warning letters recommending they forfeit prohibited contributions, but not requiring it.

North Carolina On North Carolina’s Supreme Court, G.O.P. Justices Move to Reconsider Democratic Rulings
DNyuz – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 2/5/2023

The North Carolina Supreme Court moved to rehear two voting rights cases, one striking down a gerrymandered map and another nullifying new voter ID requirements. Such re-hearings are exceedingly rare. What also made the move exceptional was that the cases had been decided less than two months ago by a court that, at the time, contained four Democratic and three Republican justices. The court that voted to rehear the cases has a five-to-two GOP majority after the November midterms. The two Democratic justices criticized the rehearing orders, calling them “an exercise of raw partisanship” that would undermine public trust in the court.

North Dakota Opposites Align in Push to Clamp Down on Dark Money in North Dakota Campaigns
Dickinson Press – Jeremy Turley | Published: 2/1/2023

State law in North Dakota allows campaign finance groups that classify themselves as “independent expenditure” filers to avoid disclosing their donors. House Bill 1500 would require the nebulous organizations to publicly divulge the “ultimate and true source” of the funds they use to buy political ads. The bill is one of about a half-dozen proposals before lawmakers that would expand public campaign finance reporting requirements for groups or candidates. The wave of legislation comes in response to a perceived increase in the number of attack ads over the last few election cycles.

Ohio Larry Householder Again Paid His Defense Lawyers with Campaign Funds, Though a Quick Refund Followed
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/8/2023

Indicted ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has again used his campaign funds to pay $300,000 in legal bills last year, a practice repeatedly found in the past to be illegal under state law. He refunded the money a day later, however, a shift from past practice that landed him in a case before the Ohio Elections Commission. That case is on hold as Householder faces a criminal trial over a racketeering charge.

Ohio Reporter Arrested After Broadcast at Ohio Governor’s News Conference
MSN – Ben Brasch (Washington Post) | Published: 2/8/2023

A television reporter was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct following a live shot at the back of a news conference held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The event was intended to announce that residents in the village of East Palestine can safely return to their homes after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed days earlier. Video shows Evan Lambert of NewsNation being handcuffed on the ground and taken to a police vehicle. It isn’t clear what led to Lambert being detained.

Oregon In the Fight Over Gas Stoves, Meet the Industry’s Go-To Scientist
DNyuz – Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times) | Published: 1/29/2023

When Multnomah County in Oregon convened a recent public hearing on the health hazards posed by pollution from gas stoves, a toxicologist named Julie Goodman was the first to testify. Studies linking gas stoves to childhood asthma, which have prompted talk of gas-stove bans recently, were “missing important context,” she said. What Goodman did not say was that she was paid to testify by a local gas provider. She is a toxicologist who works for Gradient, a consulting firm that provides environmental reviews for corporations.

Pennsylvania Democrats Sweep Special Elections, Affirming First Pa. House Majority in 12 Years
Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 2/7/2023

Democrats swept three Allegheny County special elections, cementing their one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House, and ending a two-month debate over which party controls the chamber. It is unclear if the wins will be enough for House Democrat Leader Joanna McClinton to claim the speaker’s gavel, which is currently held by Rep. Mark Rozzi. He was elected in a deal Republicans engineered in a last-ditch effort to avoid entering the minority. But Rozzi’s arrangement has not panned out as Republicans planned, and the party now faces an adjustment to life in the legislative minority.

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