February 3, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 3, 2023
At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties
Seattle Times – Steve Eder (New York Times) | Published: 1/31/2023
After Chief Justice John Roberts joined the U.S. Supreme Court, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, gave up her career as a law firm partner to become a legal recruiter to alleviate potential conflicts-of-interest. Now, a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firm, some of which have business before the Supreme Court.
Biden Lawyer: FBI finds no classified docs at beach house
Associated Press News – Eric Tucker, Colleen Long, and Zeke Miller | Published: 2/1/2023
The FBI searched President Joe Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, without finding any classified documents, the president’s attorney said. Agents did take some handwritten notes and other materials relating to Biden’s time as vice president for review. The search was the latest discomfiting moment for a president who has sought to contrast his sensitivity to rule-following with that of Donald Trump, who faces a criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents.
Court Blocks DOJ Review of Scott Perry’s Phone in Jan. 6 Probe
MSN – Spencer Hsu, Jacqueline Alemany, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 1/31/2023
An appeals court put on hold the search of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s phone data in the probe of the Capitol insurrection pending appeal. Perry’s appeal sets the stage for a constitutional test over the scope of immunity held by members of Congress from criminal investigation by the Justice Department under the Constitution’s “speech or debate clause,” which protects legislative work from executive branch interference. House leaders from both parties concluded that at least reviewing Perry’s case and weighing in on its impact on Congress’s constitutional independence is in its best interests.
EU Lobby Register Still Riddled with Errors
EU Observer – Nikolaj Nielsen | Published: 1/31/2023
The European Union’s lobby register remains riddled with errors, as pro-transparency campaigners demand better data and mandatory oversight rules. The latest findings come amid a raft of proposals by the European Parliament president to weed out corruption in the wake of a lobbying scandal. Vicky Cann of the Corporate European Observatory identified some 431 suspicious entries, which were then reviewed by the register’s secretariat. The secretariat then reached out to each one and found only three percent of the original entries were correct.
Google’s Ex-CEO Eric Schmidt Tapped for Federal Biotech Commission That Allows Members to Keep Biotech Investments
CNBC – Eamon Javers | Published: 1/31/2023
Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees announced the selection of former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and 11 others to serve on a new commission on biotechnology. It is tasked with reviewing the biotech industry and suggesting investments that would benefit national security. But the appointment does not require members to divest their own personal biotech investments. Schmidt holds stakes in several biotech companies, placing him in a position to potentially profit if those companies are the beneficiaries of a new wave of federal spending.
GOP Report Shows Plan to Ramp Up Focus on Disproven Election Fraud Claims
MSN – Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf (Washington Post) | Published: 1/31/2023
A new internal report prepared by the Republican National Committee proposes creating a permanent infrastructure in every state to ramp up “election integrity” activities in response to perceptions within GOP ranks of widespread fraud and abuse in the way the country selects its leaders. The report suggests building a massive new party organization involving state-level “election integrity officers” and intensive new training models for poll workers and observers, all based on unsubstantiated claims that Democrats have implemented election procedures that allow for rigged votes.
How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled
DNyuz – Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 1/26/2023
Then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 set out to dig into the theory the investigation to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign ties to Russia likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. Barr turned to prosecutor John Durham to prove the theory, and later granted him special counsel status. But after almost four years, Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Trump and suspected by Barr. The New York Times found Durham’s inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.
Hunter Biden’s Lawyers, in Newly Aggressive Strategy, Target His Critics
MSN – Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 2/1/2023
Hunter Biden’s lawyers sent a series of letters to state and federal prosecutors urging criminal investigations into those who accessed and disseminated his personal data and sent a separate letter threatening Fox News host Tucker Carlson with a defamation lawsuit. The string of letters, which included criminal referrals and cease-and-desist missives aimed at critics and detractors, marked the start of a new and far more hard-hitting phase for the president’s son just as House Republicans prepare their own investigations into him.
‘Just Off K Street’ Lobbyist Sheds Instagram Alias and Day Job
Bloomberg Law – Jack Fitzpatrick | Published: 1/26/2023
The lobbyist behind the popular Instagram account about Washington’s lobbying culture is stepping away from the daily grind on Capitol Hill, but not before shedding her anonymity. Katie McMichael, manager of government relations at Aurora Innovation, said she will maintain her “Just Off K Street” Instagram presence, but she is taking a reprieve from government affairs to spend more time with her family. Most of her 1,500 posts frequently lament the exhausting absurdity of Congress, told from the perspective of a bedraggled industry association lobbyist just trying to get through the day.
Justice Department Asks FEC to Stand Down as Prosecutors Probe Santos
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 1/27/2023
The Justice Department asked the FEC to hold off on any enforcement action against U.S. Rep. George Santos, who lied about key aspects of his biography as prosecutors conduct a parallel criminal probe. The request also asked the FEC to provide any relevant documents to the Justice Department. The FEC ordinarily complies with the department’s requests to hold off on enforcement. Those requests arise from a 1977 memorandum of understanding between the agencies that addresses their overlapping law enforcement responsibilities.
National Archives Asks Past Presidents, VPs to Look for Classified Items
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 1/26/2023
The National Archives sent a letter to representatives of living former presidents and vice presidents asking them to review their personal records to verify that no classified materials are outstanding. The request comes after a limited number of records bearing classified markings were found in recent weeks at President Biden’s home and a think tank bearing his name, as well as at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence.
Redistricting Lawsuits Could Shape the 2024 Battle for House Control
MSN – Daniel Altimari (Roll Call) | Published: 1/30/2023
The reconfiguration of political districts after the 2020 census resulted in a flood of legal challenges, some of which remain unresolved. The 15 states with ongoing litigation include New York and Texas – home to 64 seats combined – along with the battleground state of Georgia. After Republicans flipped nine seats in November, Democrats need to win five back to retake the majority, so redrawn maps could be a factor in shaping party control in the 2024 elections.
Rep. George Santos Is Stepping Down from Committees Amid Fabrications About His Biography
MSN – Meryl Kornfield, Leigh Ann Caldwell, and Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 1/31/2023
Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos told House Republicans he will step down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography. The temporary retreat from committees marks Santos’s first major concession after weeks of maintaining a steadfast resistance to any consequences over his fabrications.
Statehouse Efforts to Avoid Partisan Gridlock Hit Obstacles
Yahoo News – Amee LaTour (The Hill) | Published: 1/31/2023
Leaders in state Legislatures across the country have turned to cross-party alliances and power-sharing agreements as they seek to avoid the political deadlock that has hindered lawmakers in Congress, but signs are emerging that some of those efforts might be in vain. It underscores the fact that while these coalitions may enable lawmakers to avoid political paralysis at least temporarily, they are not a cure-all for the hyper-partisanship plaguing the country as a whole.
Trump’s Evolution in Social Media Exile: More QAnon, more extremes
Yahoo News – Ken Bensinger and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 1/29/2023
In September, former President Trump went on Truth Social and shared an image of himself wearing a lapel pin in the form of the letter Q, along with a phrase closely associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement: “The storm is coming.” In doing so, Trump ensured the message would be hugely amplified, visible to his more than 4 million followers. Even as Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced Trump would be reinstated, there is no sign he has curtailed his behavior or stopped spreading the kinds of messages that got him exiled in the first place.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Republicans Exempt Lawmakers from the State’s Open-Records Law
MSN – Patrick Marley and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 1/26/2023
Arizona Republicans shielded legislators from the state’s open-records law, a move that comes months after the release of thousands of documents detailing extensive efforts to undermine Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election in the state. Senators will not have to disclose any text messages sent on personal devices, even when dealing with state business. For lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, emails and other documents will be destroyed after 90 days – in many cases, well before members of the public know to ask for them.
Arizona – GOP Leaders Pressure Hobbs to Donate $1.3M in Excess Inaugural Cash
KJZZ – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 1/26/2023
The top two Republican lawmakers want Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs to put money left over from the inaugural celebration into a state account, where it cannot be used to elect more Democrats. House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen called on her to surrender control of what is left from the more than $1.5 million she collected for the celebration. At the same time, the costs totaled only about $207,000.
Florida – Hide Your Books to Avoid Felony Charges, Fla. Schools Tell Teachers
MSN – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 1/31/2023
School officials in at least two Florida counties, Manatee and Duval, have directed teachers to remove or wrap up their classroom libraries. The removals come after the State Board of Education ruled a state law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too. The law mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography, and “suited to student needs.” Breaking the law is a third-degree felony, meaning a teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for displaying or giving students a disallowed book.
Florida – Penalty Decided for Manatee Commissioner Baugh Who Violated Ethics in Vaccine Rollout
MSN – Ryan Callihan (Bradenton Herald) | Published: 1/27/2023
The Florida Ethics Commission on Ethics accepted Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s proposed settlement over scheduling herself an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine site she helped organize. Baugh was ordered to pay $8,000 and accept a public reprimand. Baugh sent an email to county staff with personal information for herself, a developer, and two former neighbors. Staff members said they understood the list to be a clear directive to ensure those people received a COVID-19 vaccine. At the time, more than 100,000 people were in the county’s vaccine waiting pool.
Illinois – Ethics Board Warns Candidates: Don’t use uniformed cops in your ads
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 2/1/2023
The Board of Ethics warned candidates running for mayor, city council, and Police District Council to not use images of uniformed Chicago police officers, firefighters, or city personnel in campaign advertisements. U.S. Rep. Jesús García edited his first television advertisement in the race for mayor to remove images of the candidate talking to two uniformed officers while promising to get tough on crime. Representatives of the police department confirmed the two officers were under investigation.
Illinois – Jury Finds Son of Former State Rep. Edward Acevedo Guilty of Tax Evasion Charges with Ties to ComEd Bribery Probe
MSN – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/30/2023
The son of former state Rep. Edward Acevedo was found guilty of tax evasion charges that were an offshoot of the investigation into Commonwealth Edison’s (ComEd) alleged attempts to influence then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Alex Acevedo was convicted for underreporting his lobbying income by about $70,000 in 2016 and 2018, resulting in a total tax loss of about $20,000. Though relatively minor in scope, the indictment against Alex Acevedo, along with separate charges filed against his younger brother and their father, received widespread attention due to the connection to the ComEd probe.
Iowa – State Agency Can’t Enforce Iowa’s Campaign Finance Laws; Asks Lawmakers for Changes
KCRG – Ethan Stein | Published: 1/27/2023
According to data from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, thousands of politicians and advocacy groups have received fines for submitting campaign finance reports late. An investigation found hundreds of fines have not been paid because state law does not set a deadline for when the penalty is paid. It also found the agency’s data is inaccurate and campaigns, along with advocacy groups, were not notified about penalties.
Kansas – Kansas Republicans Tried to Oust Ethics Head Amid Subpoenas. Will They Try Again?
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 1/26/2023
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson wants to reopen discussions about the scope and management of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission as the office pursues an investigation into campaign finance violations involving Republican officials. Masterson did not provide details on what action would be pursued but he said that under previous directors, lawmakers looked to the commission for guidance and cannot anymore. Although the ethics agency is an independent body that has jurisdiction to investigate lawmakers, Masterson said legislative efforts to change the commission were appropriate.
Massachusetts – Mass. Republican Party Elects New Leader, Rejecting Chairman Jim Lyons’ Bid for Third Term
MSN – Emma Platoff (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/31/2023
After years of dismal election results and weak fundraising, the Massachusetts Republican Party picked a new leader, narrowly rejecting the embattled chairperson, Jim Lyons. in favor of Amy Carnevale, a lobbyist for K&L Gates who promised to steady the party and reverse its electoral decline. Documents obtained by the Globe showed Lyons used party funds to investigate two fellow Republicans. He also appears to have communicated directly with an outside PAC about digging up dirt on Gov. Maura Healey during last year’s election.
Missouri – Former St. Louis County Official Sentenced to Prison for COVID Relief Kickback Scheme
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Katie Kull | Published: 1/26/2023
A former St. Louis County jail official who was long involved with politics and government was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for engaging in a pandemic relief kickback scheme. While still working for the county, Tony Weaver filled out fraudulent applications and sought kickbacks from a small businessperson who applied for multiple grants during the COVID-19 pandemic, a scheme Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said revealed Weaver’s “unbridled arrogance.”
New Mexico – New Mexico Bill to Restrict Lobbyist ‘Revolving Door’ Advances
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 1/30/2023
A proposal moving through the New Mexico Senate would prohibit former legislators and executive branch appointees from returning immediately to the Capitol as paid lobbyists. The legislation was sharply expanded in committee. The change adds employees who serve at will under the governor to the two-year lobbying ban. At least 20 former legislators and state officials are among the hundreds of people registered to lobby this session, though many of them served several years ago.
New Mexico – New Mexico Considers Roasted Chile as Official State Aroma
MSN – Susan Montoya Bryan (Associated Press) | Published: 2/1/2023
The smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall, wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots. Now one state lawmaker says it is time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile. Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his district sparked a conversation about the hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state to have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.
New York – Hochul’s Vow to Boost Ethics and Sexual Harassment Training Falls Flat
DNyuz – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 1/29/2023
On her first day as governor of New York, Kathy Hochul vowed to overhaul policies on ethics and sexual harassment in the government workplace. Her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, had just resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal. Hochul said she would strengthen the training, requiring state workers to participate in live classes and seminars. No longer would employees “click their way through a class,” Hochul said. Nearly a year and a half later, there is still no universal live training in either subject for the state’s work force.
New York – Inside George Santos’s District Office: Nothing to see here
Buffalo News – Dana Rubinstein (New York Times) | Published: 1/30/2023
The storefront in the Tudor Revival building in the Douglaston neighborhood of Queens has lived many lives: It was a flower shop; the satellite office of former U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, whose name still adorns the green awning. Now it is home to perhaps its most notorious tenant: U.S. Rep. George Santos. With the northern half of Long Island’s Nassau County falling into Santos’s district, County Executive Bruce Blakeman has said he will direct all federal constituent calls to Anthony D’Esposito, another Long Island representative. “My office will have no interaction with George Santos or his staff until he resigns,” said Blakeman, a Republican.
New York – Lobbying on LaSalle Nomination Shows Apparent Gap in Reporting Requirements
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 1/30/2023
Citizens for Judicial Fairness spent between $75,000 to $100,000 on its brief efforts trying to influence the vote of state senators on the Judiciary Committee as they considered New York Gov. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nomination of Hector LaSalle for chief judge of the Court of Appeals. State law is silent on the issue of nominations and appointments to public office, according to a spokesperson for the state’s ethics commission. It leads to a near-impossible dynamic for observers who want to follow either the money or those seeking to influence the nominations.
New York – Manhattan Prosecutors Present Trump Case to Grand Jury
Buffalo News – William Rashbaum, Ben Protess, Jonah Bromwich, and Hurubie Meko (New York Times) | Published: 1/30/2023
The Manhattan district attorney’s office began presenting evidence to a grand jury about Donald Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months. The grand jury was recently impaneled, and the beginning of witness testimony represents a clear signal that the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, is nearing a decision about whether to charge Trump.
North Dakota – North Dakota Senate Cuts Back Ethics Panel’s Bill to Expand Authority
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 1/31/2023
North Dakota’s ethics panel might not get everything it sought in a bill for tweaks to state laws. The Senate approved legislation advanced by the Ethics Commission for several requested changes, including a proposed but deleted expansion to include nearly 9,000 more state employees under its authority. Changes also include extending the time frame to notify an accused person of an ethics complaint, and adding criteria for who can make complaints.
Ohio – Corporate Jets, Bribes and Dark Money: Householder trial spotlights weaknesses in Ohio ethics laws
MSN – Andrew Tobias (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/29/2023
Aspects of Larry Householder’s corruption prosecution show grey areas or even loopholes in Ohio ethics laws that either enabled his activities or, perhaps, made them legal. But lawmakers have taken no substantive action to address any of the ethical issues underlined in the case, with several bills stalling despite at times getting bipartisan support. On the eve of the trial’s start, a group of House Republicans announced a proposed set of ethics reforms they said would address some of the issues exposed by the scandal. But the bill, which has yet to be introduced, has an uncertain future.
Oregon – Oregon Elections Director Who Worked for Democratic Party Will Not Recuse Herself from Investigation into Party’s Crypto Donor
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 2/1/2023
Oregon’s new elections director, Molly Woon, will not recuse herself from the investigation into a $500,000 donation the state Democratic Party received from an FTX executive last year even though she previously worked as a top employee of the party. In October, the Democratic Party accepted the contribution the party claimed was from a Las Vegas cryptocurrency company Prime Trust. But Prime Trust was not the actual donor. Under state law, it is a felony to make a campaign contribution under a “false name” and elections employees are deciding whether the case should be forwarded to the state attorney general for prosecution.
Pennsylvania – Lobbyist Says She Was Harassed by Current Pa. Lawmaker, Wants Legislature to Change Misconduct Rules
Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 1/27/2023
A lobbyist for one of Pennsylvania’s most influential unions says a sitting state lawmaker sexually harassed her, and she is urging the Legislature to expand internal rules that govern who can bring misconduct complaints. Andi Perez, who advocates on behalf of Service Employees International Union, made the allegation during a listening session organized by new Speaker Mark Rozzi. He has scheduled a series of public meetings to solicit feedback about the House’s operating procedures Amid a partisan deadlock over which party controls the chamber.
Rhode Island – AG’s Office Nixes $40,000 in Funding as NAACP President Faces Campaign-Finance Charges
Yahoo News – Mark Reynolds and Amy Russo (Providence Journal) | Published: 1/27/2023
Gerard Catala, the newly elected president of the Providence NAACP and a former city council candidate, faces criminal prosecution for failing to report on the finances of his 2022 campaign as required by state law. Because of the charges against Catala, the state attorney general’s office will withhold the $40,000 it had planned to give the branch over the course of four years. The funds were part of a large grant from the U.S. Department of Justice meant to support “hate-crime prevention and education.”
South Dakota – House Kills Bill That Would Have Increased Campaign Donation Limits
KEVN – Austin Glass | Published: 1/31/2023
The South Dakota House defeated a bill that would have increased the campaign contribution limits for individuals and entities. Proponents said the increase would be good in light of inflation. But opponents said the current system works well and increasing the caps would allow wealthy donors to have more influence.
Texas – Ex-Legislator Tests Lobbying Revolving Door Law by Repping Big Energy Companies
MSN – Lauren McGaughy (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 1/27/2023
A former Texas representative is testing a state law meant to crack down on the “revolving door” between the Legislature and lobbying firms. Chris Paddie chaired a powerful House’s committee that held hearings to demand answers from energy firms after 2021’s deadly winter storm. Now, he has registered to lobby for a handful of the same power companies he was previously tasked with scrutinizing. His activities come despite a law that bans state legislators from becoming lobbyists within two years of using their own campaign cash to donate to other politicians.
Virginia – GOP-Led Panel Again Defeats Campaign Finance Reform
MSN – Sarah Rankin (Associated Press) | Published: 2/1/2023
A Virginia House panel voted down legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from using campaign funds for personal expenses such as a vacation, mortgage, or country club membership. Virginia’s elected officials are currently outliers in the nation for their ability to spend money donated to their campaigns on virtually anything. Similar legislation is still alive in the Senate, but the vote signals it is likely to meet a similar fate should it cross to the House.
Washington – As Capital Gains Tax Goes to WA Supreme Court, a Push to ‘Microtarget’ Justices
Seattle Times – David Gutman | Published: 1/26/2023
As the Washington Supreme Court prepares to decide the fate of the state’s new capital gains tax, a conservative think tank, whose leadership sued to stop the tax, is “microtargeting” the state’s nine justices with an ad campaign. The Washington Policy Center wrote to donors recently outlining its advertising strategy as the justices prepare to hear challenges to the tax. The campaign focused on areas “where justices spend the bulk of their time (work and home) as well as secondary places our research found that may be relevant,” the think tank wrote to supporters.
Washington – Prominent Lobbyist Barred from WA Capitol After Ruling He Stalked State Representative
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 1/31/2023
A prominent lobbyist was barred from the Capitol campus after a judge ruled that he had stalked a state representative, leading her to flee her home for months. Rep. Lauren Davis last year obtained a domestic violence protective order against lobbyist Cody Arledge, citing what she said was an escalating pattern of obsessive and threatening behavior after she broke off their romantic relationship. Their dispute is now before the state Court of Appeals, where Arledge is challenging the restrictions on him as an “Orwellian” violation of his constitutional right to privacy and ability to work. Davis’s attorneys are defending the restrictions as necessary to protect her.
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