News You Can Use Digest - February 2, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

February 2, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 2, 2024


Biden Super PAC Plans a Historic $250 Million Ad Blitz

DNyuz – Reid Epstein and Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 1/30/2024

The main Democratic super PAC supporting President Biden’s re-election bid, Future Forward, is beginning to reserve $250 million in advertising across the most important battleground states. It is the largest single purchase of political advertising by a super PAC in the nation’s history. The ads, which are to be split between $140 million on television and $110 million on digital and streaming platforms, will start the day after the Democratic National Convention concludes in August and will run through Election Day.

Voting Is Bewildering This Primary Season. That Worries Experts.

DNyuz – Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 1/29/2024

As voters enter an election year in which many feel democracy itself is on the ballot, they face a bewildering set of dates and procedures to choose their presidential nominees. That is without even getting into the longtime snag of some states’ scheduling separate primaries for president and other offices, as well as special elections, all of which adds up to some voters having as many as five Election Days. A large body of research suggests that the morass could reduce participation.

Ex-IRS Contractor Who Leaked Trump’s Tax Returns Sentenced to 5 Years

MSN – Salvador Rizzo (Washington Post) | Published: 1/29/2024

A former government contractor who leaked confidential tax records filed by the wealthiest Americans, including those of Donald Trump was sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison. Charles Littlejohn pleaded guilty last year to one count of unauthorized disclosure of income tax returns. He admitted leaking Trump’s confidential tax information to the New York Times in 2019 and then replicated his work the next year, filtering the tax returns and financial data of thousands of wealthy Americans to ProPublica.

Congresswoman Cori Bush Under Investigation for Alleged Misuse of Security Funds

MSN – Marianna Sotomayor, Perry Stein, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 1/30/2024

The Justice Department is investigating U.S. Rep. Cori Bush for allegedly misusing money intended for members of Congress to spend on private security. Bush has come under fire for using campaign money to hire her husband, Cortney Merritts, as her security. But the Office of Congressional Ethics dismissed a complaint filed against Bush last fall alleging her campaign’s employment of Merritts was a violation of federal election law.

Republicans Advance Mayorkas Impeachment as Democrats Decry Process as a Sham

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 1/30/2024

House Republicans voted to advance an impeachment case against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the full chamber, moving one step closer to impeaching the first Cabinet member in almost 150 years. Members of the House Homeland Security Committee advanced two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, accusing him of “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and breach of the public trust. Democrats repeatedly asserted that Republicans have no constitutional basis to impeach Mayorkas.

‘Delusions of Immortality’: These lawmakers want Congress to get real about continuity

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 1/30/2024

According to the Constitution, only directly elected representatives can serve in the U.S. House, which means a special election is called for every vacancy. But that process can take a while, and if a catastrophe struck, it could kill many lawmakers at once. Rep. Derek Kilmer sees an opening to talk about continuity planning – not the well-known practice of designating a survivor who could replace the commander in chief but the lesser-known ways of the legislative branch.

Who Are No Labels’ Donors? Democratic Groups File Complaints in an Attempt to Find Out

MSN – Brian Slodysko and Jonathan Cooper (Associated Press) | Published: 1/24/2024

For months, the centrist group No Labels has stockpiled cash and diligently worked to secure ballot access for a potential third-party presidential bid, striking fear among allies of President Biden that the effort could siphon away votes and hand the White House to Donald Trump. Now, two Democratic-aligned groups filed campaign finance complaints, hoping to crimp No Labels’ pipeline of campaign money and force it to follow the same rules as formal political parties.

Peter Navarro Sentenced to 4 Months for Contempt of Congress in Jan. 6 Probe

MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 1/25/2024

Peter Navarro, a White House aide to then-President Trump who claimed credit for devising a plan to overturn the 2020 election, was sentenced to four months in prison for ignoring a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack. Navarro became the second senior Trump aide sentenced for stonewalling Congress’s investigation, joining Stephen Bannon, a former Trump political adviser with whom Navarro said he worked on a plan to delay and ultimately change the outcome of the formal count of the presidential election results.

Does Your Congress Need Fixing? Call These Former Staffers

MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 1/25/2024

There are a few well-trod career paths for a congressional staffer. Many decide to trade their hard-earned institutional knowledge for fat paychecks on K Street, while others put their experience to use working on some political passion project at an interest group. Others still leave politics behind entirely, and an increasingly rare few are lifers who never want to leave. But then there are some staffers who love Congress so much, they had to let it go. They left Congress so they could try to fix it.

State and Federal Lobbying Spending Tops $46 Billion After Federal Lobbying Spending Broke Records in 2023

OpenSecrets – Anna Massoglia | Published: 1/26/2024

Federal lobbying spending skyrocketed to over $4.2 billion in 2023, a nominal record, a new OpenSecrets analysis found. The report said lobbyists reported over $46 billion in combined federal and state lobbying expenditures since 2015. Influential corporations and other special interest groups wanting a say in policy decisions beefed up their lobbying game, and not just on K Street. Amid congressional gridlock, many moved to sidestep the chaos on Capitol Hill by realigning their influence operations to include state-level officials.

GOP Legislatures in Some States Seek Ways to Undermine Voters’ Ability to Determine Abortion Rights

Yahoo News – Christine Fernando (Associated Press) | Published: 1/28/2024

Legislative efforts in Missouri and Mississippi are attempting to prevent voters from having a say over abortion rights, building on anti-abortion strategies seen in other states, including last year in Ohio. Democrats and abortion rights advocates say the efforts are evidence that Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents are trying to undercut democratic processes meant to give voters a direct role in forming state laws.

Republican Lawsuits Challenge Mail Ballot Deadlines. Could They Upend Voting Across the Country?

Yahoo News – Christie Fernando, Emily Wagster Pettus, and Jack Dura (Associated Press) | Published: 2/1/2024

Republicans are challenging extended mail ballot deadlines in at least two states in a legal maneuver that could have widespread implications for mail voting ahead of this year’s presidential election. Democratic and voting rights groups are concerned about the potential impact beyond those two states if a judge rules that deadlines for receiving mailed ballots that stretch past Election Day violate federal law.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Trudeau’s Holiday Travel Didn’t Break the Rules, Ethics Commissioner Tells MPs

CBC – Elizabeth Thompson | Published: 1/30/2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to Jamaica did not break the rules that govern gifts and travel for elected officials because the stay was a gift from a longtime family friend, Interim Ethics Commissioner Konrad Von Finckenstein told Members of Parliament (MP). Von Finckenstein said the rules governing the gifts and travel that MPs can accept makes an exception for gifts or travel given by parents or friends. But the rules on MPs’ travel could be about to change.

Canada – Fundraising Scandal: CAQ says it’s ready to end donations to political parties

CTV News – Canadian Press | Published: 1/31/2024

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) said it is prepared to end contributions to political parties, after several CAQ members were accused of soliciting $100 donations from mayors hoping to meet with ministers. Under Quebec’s Election Act, only citizens, not legal entities such as companies or unions, can give to political parties. The law specifies that contributions cannot be given to gain a favor or an advantage.

Alaska – Dunleavy Reelection Backers Ordered to Comply with Subpoenas in Campaign Finance Case

Yahoo News – Sean Maguire (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 1/27/2024

A judge ordered backers of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection campaign to respond to subpoenas that seek to find whether they violated state law in the lead-up to the 2022 election. Two Alaska watchdog groups filed a complaint alleging the Republican Governors Association created A Stronger Alaska as a shell entity to improperly spend money in Alaska in violation of campaign finance laws.

Arizona – Rep. Leezah Sun Resigns from the Arizona House

KJZZ – Wayne Schutsky | Published: 1/31/2024

Minutes before the Arizona House was set to vote on expelling her from the chamber in the wake of an ethics probe that found she engaged in “disorderly behavior,” including threatening to kill a lobbyist, Rep. Leezah Sun resigned. An investigation determined Sun behaved inappropriately on multiple occasions while acting in her official capacity. That includes when she allegedly told several attendees at a conference that she wanted to slap Pilar Sinawi, a lobbyist for the city of Tolleson, and throw her over a balcony.

Arizona – Scottsdale Mayor Nixed New Old Town Restaurant but Denies Any Favor to Campaign Donors

MSN – Sam Kmack (Arizona Republic) | Published: 2/1/2024

Scottsdale’s mayor received nearly half of his campaign contributions over the past two years from employees of the prominent local development company that successfully fought to defeat a competitor’s plan to build a new restaurant in the city. Employees of Riot Hospitality Group, owned by Shawn Yari, donated $36,000 to Mayor David Ortega. The mayor cast a deciding vote to block the development of a proposed upscale restaurant that would have competed with Yari’s properties and plans.

Arkansas – Federal Appeals Court Won’t Revisit Ruling That Limits Scope of Voting Rights Act

MSN – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 1/31/2024

A federal appeals court declined to reconsider its decision that would prevent private groups from suing under a key section of the Voting Rights Act, prompting a potential fight before the U.S. Supreme Court over a ruling that civil rights groups say erodes the law aimed at prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. An Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that only the U.S. attorney general can enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

California – California Lawmakers, Raising Fears of Political Violence, Want to Shield Their Properties

CalMatters – Alexei Koseff | Published: 1/30/2024

Citing safety threats, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would keep the property they own and other personal information from annual financial disclosures off the internet. Assembly Bill 1170 would shift to an electronic filing system for the statement of economic interest that elected officials and some public employees in California are required to complete each year. But a provision proposes to expand the redactions on publicly available versions of the form, shielding the addresses of filers’ real property interests and businesses, though they would still be available upon request.

California – State Auditors: Anaheim hasn’t properly managed tourism money

MSN – Michael Slaton (Orange County Register) | Published: 1/30/2024

State auditors said Anaheim has not properly managed its tourism contracts and millions of dollars in related funding, and some of that public money was used for political purposes. The audit put public money sent by the city to Visit Anaheim and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce under a microscope for potential misuse of funds. The auditors are recommending the city implement additional oversight of its contracts and of the millions in tourism district funds that come from hotel stays each year.

California – Former L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison in Corruption Case

MSN – Dakota Smith and David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/26/2024

Former Los Angeles City Councilperson Jose Huizar was sentenced to 13 years in prison for using his position to shaker down real estate developers for at least $1.5 million in cash and benefits in exchange for help driving projects through the city’s approval process. Huizar was the prime architect of a criminal enterprise that relied on bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice, and other crimes to achieve its goals of enriching himself and his associates, and expanding their political power, U.S. District Court Judge John Walter said.

Florida – Miami Mayor Pushed for No-Bid City Contract Benefiting His Private Employer’s Partner

MSN – Sarah Blaskey, Joey Flechas, Alex Harris, and Tess Riski (Miami Herald) | Published: 1/30/2024

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and his top aides spent months last year advocating for a no-bid city contract for a little-known software company that was simultaneously negotiating a partnership with a firm paying the mayor a $20,000-a-month salary. The mayor advocacy on behalf of the software company, NZero and the behind-closed-doors discussions involving its partnership with Suarez’s private employer, Redivider, were laid out in dozens of emails. The emails raise new questions about conflicts-of-interest involving Suarez, whose outside work for a local developer is already the subject of a federal investigation.

Florida – Federal Judge Throws Out Disney’s Lawsuit against DeSantis

Yahoo News – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 1/31/2024

Disney lost a battle in its struggle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after a federal judge tossed out the company’s lawsuit against the governor and his handpicked board that now oversees the land around Disney World. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor said Disney lacked standing and jurisdiction in arguing that actions pushed by DeSantis were retaliatory and violated the First Amendment rights of the company. Disney said it intends to appeal.

Florida – Florida Supreme Court Will Consider Challenge to DeSantis’ Redistricting Map

Yahoo News – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 1/24/2024

Florida’s contested congressional map that helped Republicans capture the U.S. House may get left in place for the 2024 elections after the state Supreme Court signaled it could be months before it rules on a lawsuit challenging the current districts. Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the Supreme Court to keep in place an appeals court ruling that upheld a map that dismantled the seat that former Democratic Rep. Al Lawson held, and which led to a net gain of four seats for Republicans during the 2022 election cycle. That map was muscled into law by DeSantis.

Hawaii – Hawaii Legislators Target Deepfake Political Messaging

Yahoo News – Dan Nakaso (Honolulu Star Advertiser) | Published: 1/30/2024

To keep artificial intelligence – or deepfake – messaging out of Hawaii elections, two bills would ban false information of a candidate or party, and a third would make it a petty misdemeanor to distribute, or conspire to distribute, fake political messages. A winning House or Senate candidate often needs only 3,000 votes or so. The outcome could be determined by “a handful of votes that could very easily be swayed by deepfake messaging in the critical hours before the vote …,” Rep. Trisha La Chica said.

Indiana – An Indiana State Senator Could Benefit from Her Bill Easing Child Labor Laws. Here’s How

MSN – Brittany Carloni and Rachel Fradette (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 1/30/2024

A bill by state Sen. Linda Rogers would expand work hours and time restrictions for young people and allow 18-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants and hotels. Rogers and her husband own Juday Creek Golf Course, which is registered as a business that employs minors. The potential connection between the bill and Rogers’ business points to the challenge, or benefit some might say, of having a part-time Legislature, where lawmakers have other sources of income or jobs in their home communities, ethics experts said.

Nevada – Court Dismisses Lombardo Ethics Case on ‘Technicality,’ Attorneys Intend to Appeal

Nevada Independent – Tabitha Mueller | Published: 1/31/2024

A Carson City judge in early January dismissed a lawsuit filed by Gov. Joe Lombardo challenging a decision from the Nevada Commission on Ethics to censure and fine the governor for using his Clark County sheriff uniform and badge on the 2022 campaign trail, but attorneys for Lombardo said they were unaware of the court’s order until recently and plan to appeal. Judge James Russell’s order, which ethics commission attorneys were also unaware of, dismissed the appeal on procedural grounds.

New York – The Secretive Court Fight Roiling New York’s Democratic Socialists

DNyuz – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 1/25/2024

As New York socialists looked to expand an electoral beachhead in 2022, they steered supporters to a special campaign committee set up to advance not just a single candidate, but a socialist slate. The group, DSA for the Many, allowed the fledgling movement to act something like a major political party, pooling resources and coordinating directly with a dozen candidates. Eight socialists ultimately won seats in the state Legislature. But a state elections official found the group never filed the authorizations needed to raise and spend candidate funds.

New York – ‘Full of Loopholes’ – Mayor Adams’ 2021 Fundraising Shows Weaknesses in Campaign Finance Law

Gothamist – Charles Lane | Published: 1/25/2024

Campaign finance regulators overseeing New York City’s matching funds program for campaigns flagged nearly 400 donations to Eric Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign as possibly bundled and requiring disclosure the campaign never provided, according to records. People familiar with the audit say it has been paused while the FBI investigates if the mayor’s campaign collected foreign and straw contributions. But the federal probe has also made clear that rules and enforcement around campaign finance in New York need improvement.

New York – Jury Orders Trump to Pay E. Jean Carroll More Than $83 Million for Defaming Her

MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Mark Berman (Washington Post) | Published: 1/26/2024

A civil jury ordered Donald Trump to pay the writer E. Jean Carroll more than $83 million for defaming her, a financial penalty that doubled as a denunciation of his rhetoric. The verdict delivered a stinging courtroom loss to the former president as he closes in on another Republican presidential nomination. At the same time, it illustrated the degree to which Trump’s year could be defined as much by courtrooms as the campaign trail.

New York – Justice Dept. Says Cuomo Created ‘Sexually Hostile Work Environment’ as Governor

MSN – Azi Paybarah abd Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 1/26/2024

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “subjected female employees to a hostile work environment” and “retaliated against employees who spoke out about the harassment,” the Justice Department announced, after reaching a settlement with the state. The report is based on an investigation into allegations against Cuomo, who resigned after a state investigation found he sexually harassed 11 women and oversaw an unlawful attempt to exact retribution against one of his accusers.

North Carolina – North Carolina Redistricting Lawsuit Tries ‘Fair’ Election Claim to Overturn GOP Lines

MSN – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 1/31/2024

Another lawsuit challenging district lines for Congress and the Legislature in North Carolina seeks a new legal route to strike down the maps that are to be used this year. Plaintiffs ask judges to declare there is a right in the state constitution to “fair” elections. They also want at least several congressional and General Assembly districts they say violate that right struck down and redrawn.

Ohio – Every Politician Has Got to Have Somebody That’s the Hit Man

DNyuz – Ian MacDougall (New York Times) | Published: 1/25/2024

In July 2020, the FBI arrested then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, lobbyist Neil Clark and three others on corruption charges. They were accused of taking tens of millions of dollars in donations from an energy company in exchange for passing a law that awarded the company $1.3 billion in subsidies. Householder was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Clark pleaded not guilty but committed suicide before a trial date could be set.

Ohio – Ohio Rep. Dobos Drops Reelection Bid Following Revelations of MIT Degree Misstatements

MSN – Billy Bush (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 1/30/2024

Ohio Rep. Dave Dobos, who drew scrutiny when it was discovered he had not earned a college degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as he had long claimed, dropped out of his reelection bid ahead of the March primary, where he faced two opponents. Just before the November 2022 election, Dobos said he was “in error” when he did not include on a required report that two creditors claimed he owed them $1.3 million as the result of a business dispute.

Ohio – The Comeback Bid Is On: Ohio Supreme Court allows former lawmaker to appear on ballot

Ohio Capital Journal – Nick Evans | Published: 1/31/2024

The Ohio Supreme Court cleared the path for Steven Kraus to run for the state House, sidestepping difficult questions about the former state lawmaker’s comeback bid. Kraus was removed from office in 2015 after a felony theft conviction, but he has since gotten that case sealed by the court. State law bars ex-felons from holding office unless their conviction is “reversed, expunged or annulled.” Kraus insisted his sealed case is the same as an expunged case, because sealing the conviction was the only option available to him.

Pennsylvania – Former Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown and Super PAC Sue Philly Ethics Board

Billy Penn – Meir Rinde | Published: 1/31/2024

Former Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jeff Brown and a super PAC that spent millions of dollars to back his unsuccessful bid have sued the city’s Board of Ethics, alleging the agency used its power to undermine his candidacy. The board sued the super PAC and a related nonprofit, both called For A Better Philadelphia, during last year’s Democratic primary campaign, alleging its staff illegally coordinated with Brown and his campaign. Following the board’s allegations and a series of unrelated campaign missteps, Brown finished in fifth place.

Tennessee – GOP Ex-Lawmaker Using Old Campaign Cash to Bankroll Law School Bearing His Name

MSN – Mark Alesia (Raw Story) | Published: 1/30/2024

When Lincoln Memorial University received a $5,000 donation in October, it came from a familiar source, the old campaign committee account of former U.S. Rep. John Duncan, who last served in Congress five years ago. Over the past 19 years, Duncan has given more than $48,000 in leftover campaign funds to the university. That money has helped sustain the university and the law school that bears Duncan’s name. Campaign finance experts consider the practice as ethically murky when political donations enhance former lawmakers’ legacies with “monuments to me.”

Texas – Proposed Changes to the City’s Ethics Commission Falter

Austin Monitor – Elizabeth Pagano | Published: 1/26/2024

A proposal to remake Austin’s ethics panel as an independent entity appears to be on hold at the Charter Review Commission after a motion to form a working group to look into the issue failed without any support. Commissioner Betsy Greenberg, who made the motion to form a working group, presented her research on the topic at the commission’s most recent meeting. Most of her presentation centered on a 2018 recommendation from the previous incarnation of the commission.

Utah – Parents Claim SLC District Official Had a Conflict of Interest with School Closures

KUER – Martha Harris | Published: 1/26/2024

Some parents in the Salt Lake City School District are asking the school board to redo its recent school closure study over claims the district official overseeing much of the process had a conflict-of-interest. Brian Conley, the district’s director of boundaries and planning, was often the public face of this effort.  Critics note Conley’s spouse, who is the principal of an elementary school within the district, and that his stepchild attends a separate elementary school. Both schools were not recommended for closure.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Promises to Veto Last-Ditch Republican Redistricting Effort

MSN – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 1/25/2024

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers promised to veto a redistricting proposal the Republican-controlled Assembly passed and that largely mirror maps he proposed, but with changes that would reduce the number of GOP incumbents who would have to face one another in November. Evers’ veto will leave it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to install the state’s new maps.

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