News You Can Use Digest - February 16, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

February 16, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 16, 2024


Chief Witness Against Gaetz Is Cooperating with House Ethics Investigation

DNyuz – Robert Draper and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 2/9/2024

A lawyer for the chief witness against U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz said the witness was cooperating with a House ethics committee investigation into whether Gaetz had sex with an underage girl while he was serving in Congress. Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty to charges including sex trafficking, is serving an 11-year prison sentence. He had previously cooperated with a Justice Department investigation into whether Gaetz had engaged in sex trafficking of a minor.

AI Companies Agree to Limit Election ‘Deepfakes’ but Fall Short of Ban

MSN – Gerrit De Vynck (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2024

Leading artificial intelligence (AI) companies are planning to sign an “accord” committing to developing tech to identify, label, and control AI-generated images, videos, and audio recordings that aim to deceive voters ahead of crucial elections in multiple countries this year. It does not ban deceptive political AI content. X, previously Twitter, was not a signatory to the agreement.

House Republicans Impeach Alejandro Mayorkas by a Single Vote

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2024

House Republicans moved in historic fashion and impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a single vote, succeeding on their second try in punishing the steward of President Biden’s immigration policy. The unprecedented and partisan resolution may not go very far in the Senate, as some Republicans in the upper chamber do not believe Mayorkas’s actions clear the bar as the “high crimes and misdemeanors” necessary for conviction. Some bipartisan and legal observers worry the most serious tool the U.S. Constitution provides to rein in a public official is being misused as partisan weapon.

Families Using Re-Created Voices of Gun Violence Victims to Call Lawmakers

MSN – Terry Spencer (Associated Press) | Published: 2/14/2024

The families of six young people killed by guns are using artificial intelligence to create messages in their loved ones’ voices and robocalling them to U.S. senators and House members who support the National Rifle Association and oppose tougher gun laws. Manuel and Patricia Oliver, parents of Joaquin Oliver, who was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, say the campaign is based on the oft-cited idea that if someone wants laws changed, the first step is calling elected representatives.

The Mystery Behind $10 Million of ‘Bridge Funding’ Supporting RFK Jr.’s Presidential Bid

MSN – Brittany Gibson (Politico) | Published: 2/14/2024

The super PAC supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. padded its account with millions of dollars in contributions from one of the best-known private security executives in the country, Gavin de Becker. Then it did something remarkable: it returned nearly all of the funds, making his donations effectively a loan. Campaign finance watchdogs said they have never seen such an arrangement before. The contributions helped the PAC report a high fundraising total that can, in turn, be seen as a sign of legitimacy for the committee. All told, de Becker made $10 million in donations to the super PAC; $9.65 million of which was returned.

Trans Adults on Edge as Legislatures Broaden Focus Beyond Children

MSN – Casey Parks (Washington Post) | Published: 2/15/2024

A record number of bills introduced across the country significantly reshape the way transgender people live their lives. Republican-dominated Legislatures have already enacted more than 100 laws to limit LGBTQ+ rights over the past few years, but most affected adolescents and schools. Now, policymakers are increasingly turning their focus to adults. The lawmakers pushing the bills universally contend there should be limits on how far society goes to embrace transgender adults.

Special Counsel Asks Supreme Court to Let Trump’s D.C. Trial Proceed

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 2/14/2024

Special counsel Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court to clear the way for the prosecution of Donald for his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election, pushing back against the former president’s claim that he should be shielded from standing trial as he again seeks the White House. The Supreme Court’s response will have a significant impact on whether and when Trump goes on trial in Washington, where the presiding judge has already postponed a planned March 4 start date.

County Election Officials Call for More Funding, Better Security Ahead of 2024 Elections

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 2/12/2024

Threats and harassment are causing a crisis for election workers and could endanger the integrity of upcoming elections, speakers said at an annual gathering of local officials from around the country. The problem is personal for Bill Gates, a member of Maricopa County’s board of supervisors who has repeatedly shared his own experience with threats in Arizona. But it goes beyond any one county and reflects “a time today very different than what we had in the past,” Gates said.

From the States and Municipalities

Oceania – Lobbyists Are Back at Parliament – with a New Privacy Measure Hiding Their Identities

RNZ – Guyon Espiner | Published: 1/21/2024

The identities of people allowed to freely come and go from the New Zealand Parliament have been made secret by the new speaker. Gerry Brownlee said he did not agree with the blanket ban on lobbyists having swipe card access and some discretion was needed. He had approved swipe card access for about four new people, who he said could be described as having lobbying roles. But they were not employed by professional lobbying firms and largely had jobs assisting parties in Parliament.

Alabama – Rep. Simpson on New Ethics Bill: We want you to know where the line is

Alabama Daily News – Mary Sell | Published: 2/9/2024

State Rep. Matt Simpson is circulating a draft of legislation that would make several significant changes to Alabama’s ethics laws. The proposal revises multiple sections of code dealing with the rules about 300,000 elected officials and state and local government employees, and sometimes their family members, must obey. Simpson plans to file the bill soon, but said he first wants to give his colleagues and anyone else a chance to “poke holes in” his attempt to clean up ethics law revisions made in 2010 and some of the unintended consequences they created.

Arizona – To Avoid Election Crisis, Arizona Lawmakers Try Bipartisanship

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 2/9/2024

Alarmed that Arizona’s 11 electoral votes might not be counted in the process for selecting the next president, Republicans and Democrats in this political battleground state did something rare: they found consensus. After months of warnings and a frantic series of negotiations, the narrowly divided Legislature passed a bill aimed at giving election officials more time to run the 2024 primary and general elections.

Arizona – Arizona Congressional Candidate’s 3 Young Children Gave Almost $10K to His Campaign

MSN – Laura Gersony (Arizona Republic) | Published: 2/12/2024

It is standard for candidates to draw on their personal connections to raise funds, asking for buy-in from family members, friends, or work colleagues. But Conor O’Callaghan, a Wall Street executive running in the crowded Democratic primary in Arizona’s First Congressional District, has accepted money from an unusual network: his young children, who are minors.

California – Can Judges Endorse Political Candidates? Competitive Bay Area Races Are Testing Boundaries

MSN – Bob Egelko (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 2/14/2024

Candidates for Superior Court judge generally look for endorsements wherever they can find them. But endorsements by a judicial candidate can trigger ethical concerns, an issue that has been raised in upcoming votes in Alameda County and San Francisco. In Alameda County, Court Commissioner Mark Fickes’ opponent in the March 5 election, Michael Johnson, filed a formal complaint against Fickes for publicly supporting District Attorney Pamela Price, whose office regularly argues cases in Superior Court.

California – San Francisco’s New Ethics Watchdog Hates This Election Loophole

San Francisco Standard – Josh Koehn | Published: 2/12/2024

As the new leader of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, Patrick Ford has one of the most important roles in the city, especially in an election year. The commission is tasked with processing and publishing a huge volume of campaign records, investigating reports of violations, proposing improvements in local ethics laws, and rooting out corruption. Ford has his hands full with the upcoming Democratic County Central Committee race, where some candidates for the little-known body are raising six-figure sums.

Delaware – Supreme Court Rules in Former State Auditor Kathy McGuiness’ Criminal Conviction Appeal

Yahoo News – Xerxes Wilson (Delaware News Journal) | Published: 2/13/2024

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the misdemeanor conflict-of-interest conviction of former state Auditor Kathy McGuiness while overturning her other misdemeanor conviction, remanding that charge for a potential second trial. McGuiness was the first sitting, statewide public office holder in Delaware to be convicted of criminal charges when a jury found her guilty of two misdemeanors, tied to her hiring her daughter as a part-time employee in the auditor’s office. A third guilty verdict based on state purchasing rules was tossed by the trial judge after the verdicts.

Florida – Lobbyist Wrote Bill to Protect Visit Orlando but Sought to Hide His Role

MSN – Stephen Hudak (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 2/11/2024

Senate Bill 1594, filed by Florida Sen. Linda Stewart at a time Orange County commissioners were eyeing cuts to Visit Orlando’s $100 million county subsidy, was written by the county’s own lobbyist, Chris Carmody, not the lawmaker. The bill would have required a supermajority of five of the seven commissioners to make such cuts. Carmody sought to hide his role in the legislation, which is now stirring anger among commissioners who believe he was undermining the county’s interests when he is paid to defend them.

Florida – Florida Senate Committee Advances Lobbying Transparency Bill

MSN – Andrew Powell (The Center Square) | Published: 2/10/2024

Florida lawmakers advanced legislation that would add transparency to lobbying in the state. Senate Bill 734 would make various changes to ethics rules for local governments and prohibit state and local officials from accepting or soliciting anything from a foreign country of concern. Under the bill, individuals would be required to register as a lobbyist with the Florida Commission on Ethics if they plan to lobby a municipality, county, or special district.

Florida – Jacksonville Ethics Commission: Florida House amendments would ‘handcuff local watchdogs’

Yahoo News – Hanna Holthaus (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 2/12/2024

Changes to a Florida ethics bill would “dismantle” government oversight efforts, the Jacksonville Ethics Commission said in a letter. The commission joined with offices of four other municipalities to oppose the changes. The amendment would eliminate the ability of state and local ethics commissions to research the informal complaints or tips they receive for their independent investigations into government offices and employees.

Georgia – What Happens if Fani Willis Is Disqualified from the Trump Case?

DNyuz – Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 2/15/2024

A judge in Georgia seeks to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from leading the prosecution of former President Trump on election interference charges. If Judge Scott McAfee finds Willis has a conflict-of-interest because of her romantic relationship with the prosecutor she hired to manage the case, and that it merits disqualification, his decision would disqualify her entire office. The case would be reassigned to another prosecutor, who would have the ability to continue with the case as it is, make major changes, or to even drop the matter.

Georgia – Black Churches in Georgia Unite to Mobilize Voters in a Key Battleground

Seattle Times – Nick Corasaniti and Maya King (New York Times) | Published: 2/11/2024

Two of the largest Black church groups in Georgia are formally uniting for the first time to mobilize Black voters in the battleground state before the November presidential election.  The two congregations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, plan to combine their resources and their more than 140,000 parishioners in the state for the get-out-the-vote program.

Illinois – Feds Accuse Ex-Lawmaker of ‘Greed, Fraud and Arrogance’ in Misusing Campaign Funds

Capitol News Illinois – Hannah Meisel | Published: 2/13/2024

Former Illinois Sen. Sam McCann is accused of illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses, including paying two mortgages, financing multiple vehicles and vacations, and double-dipping on reimbursement for miles driven. His trial finally got underway after a week of delays stemming from McCann’s sudden hospitalization. U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless ordered him arrested and detained for violating her direct orders to communicate with the federal probation office after being discharged from the hospital.

Illinois – Ex-Lawmaker Convicted of Cheating on Taxes, in a Case Tied to Corruption Probe That Led to Madigan Indictment

Chicago Sun-Times – Jon Seidel | Published: 2/12/2024

Former Illinois Sen. Annazette Collins was convicted in federal court of cheating on her taxes, in a case tied to the larger corruption investigation that led to the indictment of former House Speaker Michael Madigan. Prosecutors said used Collins used money from her lobbying firm to make car, tuition, and mortgage payments, and to fund a trip to Punta Cana, all while filing income tax returns that made it seem she earned sums of as little as $11,000 a year after leaving public office.

Illinois – Tim Mapes, Former Aide to Speaker Michael Madigan, Sentenced to 2 1/2 Years for Lying to Federal Grand Jury

MSN – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 2/12/2024

Tim Mapes, who spent decades in Michael Madigan’s inner circle while serving as the ex-Illinois House speaker’s chief of staff, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after he was convicted of lying under oath to protect his former boss. The hearing punctuated a stunning downfall for Mapes, who in addition to his role as Madigan’s chief gatekeeper was also the executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party and clerk of the House before he was forced to resign in 2018 amid a sexual harassment scandal.

Indiana – Indiana AG’s Site to Report School Content Ignites Fear for Teachers

MSN – Praveena Somasundaram and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 2/14/2024

Teachers’ unions in Indiana are calling for the state attorney general to shut down a new website that invites parents to report “potentially inappropriate materials” in schools, describing the measure as a “blatant attack” on educators. Attorney General Todd Rokita recently launched the Eyes on Education website, which he said is a “transparency portal” for parents to see “real examples of socialist indoctrination from classrooms.” Its implementation follows attempts by conservative politicians across the country to restrict how students learn about race and gender.

Kansas – Senate Bill Aims to Stop Government Entities in Kansas from Using Tax Dollars for Lobbying

Kansas Reflector – Tim Carpenter | Published: 2/13/2024

A bill in the Kansas Senate would prohibit the use of public dollars for direct or indirect lobbying, to pay membership dues of associations engaged in lobbying, or for gifts or campaign contributions to elected officials or government workers. Violations would leave public employees – those working for a county, township, city, school district, or state agency, authority, or institution – open to disciplinary action ranging from suspension to termination.

Michigan – Michigan House Disciplines Lawmaker Over His Tweets on Racist Theory

MSN – Daniel Wu (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2024

The Michigan House stripped Rep. Josh Schriver of his staff members and a committee positions, days after Schriver posted online about a racist conspiracy theory. Schriver sparked furor when he shared a post on social media of an image captioned, “The great replacement!” The image referenced the far-right conspiracy theory that non-White immigrants are deliberately brought into White-majority countries to undermine the political power and cultures of White people.

New Mexico – Ivey-Soto Bill Raises Conflict of Interest Questions

Source New Mexico – Justin Horwath (New Mexico In Depth) | Published: 2/14/2024

A bill meant to modernize New Mexico’s marriage laws would increase the money people pay to the state’s county clerks for a marriage license. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, is paid by numerous county clerks on a contract basis for technical, legal, and training services. The State Ethics Commission investigates complaints that accuse Ivey-Soto, in part, of using his position as a lawmaker to curry favor with his clients.

New York – Suozzi Wins New York Special Election, Replacing George Santos

MSN – Hannah Knowles and Julie Zauzmer Weil (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2024

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a hotly contested special election for Congress, retaking a seat in suburban New York to replace George Santos. National issues dominated the campaign, making the vote this year’s first high-profile test of the parties’ messages on abortion, the economy, and immigration. Suozzi represented the area for six years previously and campaigned as a moderate.

New York – New York Hush Money Case Will Be First Trump Criminal Trial, Set for March

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 2/15/2024

A judge said jury selection for Donald Trump’s trial in New York will begin on March 25, setting a date with history for what would be the first criminal prosecution of an ex-president, one who also leads the Republican field of 2024 candidates for the White House. State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he will go forward with the trial on charges that Trump falsified business records during the heat of the 2016 political campaign to keep secret a past sexual liaison with an adult-film star.

New York – Top NYCHA Chiefs Repeatedly Rejected New Rules to Curb Corrupt Contracts

The City – Greg Smith | Published: 2/12/2024

When law enforcement officials arrested 70 mid-level New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) bureaucrats on bribery charges, they touted the sweep as a very public splash meant to send a clear anti-corruption message. It appears that NYCHA’s top managers received and rejected a similar message years earlier when the city Department of Investigation looked into the same issue: bribes paid to superintendents and assistant superintendents to obtain small contracts of less than $10,000 for repairs without competitive bidding.

North Dakota – North Dakota Legislature’s Conflict Rules Span Decades of Controversy

North Dakota Monitor – Mary Steuer | Published: 2/8/2024

In 1968, the North Dakota Supreme Court struck down a law aimed at curbing corruption in the statehouse, ending a 14-year tug-of-war between lawmakers and voters. Under the law, no lawmaker nor their spouse, nor any business either one had more than a five percent stake in, could do greater than $10,000 worth of business with the state in a year. North Dakota Ethics Commission Executive Director Rebecca Binstock said the history of the 1954 statute may shed light on why, at least in the opinion of the commission, today’s Legislature remains at odds with the state’s conflict-of-interest regulations.

Ohio – Ex-FirstEnergy CEO, Top Lobbyist, and Former Top Ohio Utility Regulator Indicted in State Government Bribery Scandal

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer and Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/12/2024

Two former executives with FirstEnergy, Charles Jones and Michael Dowling, face state charges in what has been called the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history. Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairperson Sam Randazzo was also indicted. While the related federal prosecution that sent ex-House Speaker Larry Householder to prison focused on the passage of House Bill 6, the legislation tailor made to benefit FirstEnergy, the state charges focus on a broader picture of a corporation’s corrupt relationship with the helm of state power.

Ohio – Some College Students Find It Harder to Vote Under New Republican Laws

MSN – Maddie Kasper (Washington Post) | Published: 2/7/2024

Legislation signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine last January introduced significant changes to Ohio’s election laws, most notably establishing a photo ID requirement that is considered among the most restrictive in the nation. A federal judge shot down a Democratic attempt to block it, saying the law “imposes no more than a minimal burden, if any, for the vast majority of voters.” But some Ohio college students say they are the exception, and the legislation fits within a nationwide Republican effort in recent years to restrict their voting rights.

Ohio – Judge Denies GOP Lawmakers’ Request to Block House Speaker Jason Stephens’ Access to Campaign Cash

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/14/2024

A judge denied a request by a group of Ohio House Republicans to prevent Speaker Jason Stephens and his allies from accessing the GOP caucus’s multi-million-dollar campaign bank account. Rep. Derek Merrin and legislative allies are trying to wrest control over the House GOP’s campaign arm, the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA) from Stephens. It remains to be seen how the judge will rule on the larger lawsuit over who should be given control of the OHRA.

Oregon – Oregon Power Players in Business, Labor Are Negotiating a Campaign Finance Package

OPB – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 2/9/2024

Oregon business and labor groups have quietly begun negotiating a deal that could result in campaign contribution limits in state races for the first time in decades. The surprising development is an attempt to avoid a potentially costly ballot fight in November. If the two sides can find a workable proposal – a tall order in the compressed timeline of a five-week short session – it could be an opportunity for lawmakers to act. Oregon is one of just five states with no limits on political giving.

Pennsylvania – Former Top Pa. Lawmaker’s Lobbying Firm Paid $41K by Game Commission in Unusual Arrangement

Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 2/8/2024

The state agency that promotes hunting in Pennsylvania has hired a lobbying firm run by a former top lawmaker using tens of thousands of dollars in public funds, an unusual arrangement that at least one legislator has tried to ban. The Pennsylvania Game Commission entered into a contract with Allegheny Strategy Partners. Joe Scarnati, who once held the top leadership post in the state Senate, is one of three partners in the firm. Though a handful of cities and regional authorities that rely on state aid deploy lobbyists to Harrisburg, state-level government agencies rarely employ these firms to gain influence with people who are essentially colleagues.

Pennsylvania – Josh Shapiro Accepted $1,650 in ‘Event Tickets’ from Powerful Pa. Lobbyist

Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 2/13/2024

Under a policy that Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro instituted in January 2023, the governor and other executive branch employees are not allowed to accept tickets to recreational events from people or entities that have “financial relations” with or are “seeking to obtain business or an outcome” from the state. But Shapiro accepted $1,650 in tickets from a Harrisburg lobbyist last year. The governor’s office did not disclose the tickets as a gift. Rather, it was Shapiro’s campaign committee that reported the tickets as a political contribution.

South Dakota – State Supreme Court Clarifies Conflicts of Interest; Noem Pledges to Fill Legislative Seats

MSN – Seth Tupper and John Hult (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 2/9/2024

A South Dakota Supreme Court ruling enables state legislators to enter into contracts with the government, provided the funds come from the annual budget bill. Language in the state constitution has been a subject of debate since last year, when it was revealed Sen. Jessica Castleberry’s business received federal pandemic relief funds through a state contract. Castleberry resigned and agreed to repay approximately $500,000 to the state.

Virginia – Should Cities Require Disclosure of Lobbying Efforts on Planning Projects? Chesapeake Is Exploring the Issue.

MSN – Natalie Anderson (Virginian-Pilot) | Published: 2/8/2024

The city of Chesapeake is exploring a potential change that would disclose on public planning documents the names of companies and individuals paid to lobby city leaders for project approval. If the city council eventually votes to approve the change, it could be a first for Virginia municipalities.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Republicans Vote to Weaken Their Lock on the Legislature

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2024

Wisconsin Republicans approved maps that would weaken their grip on the state Legislature, backing new district lines supported by the Democratic governor out of fears the state Supreme Court could impose ones that are even worse for them. If approved by Gov. Tony Evers, the package would jettison what experts consider one of the country’s most gerrymandered set of maps in a state that has been one of the most competitive in presidential and other statewide races.

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