News You Can Use Digest - February 9, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

February 9, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 9, 2024


Luxury Spending, Internal Strife Leave NRA Staggering Into 2024 Election

Anchorage Daily News – Beth Reinhard and Sylvia Foster-Frau (Washington Post) | Published: 2/4/2024

In 2016, the National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed helped catapult Donald Trump to the White House with $31 million in campaign spending. But as Trump stages his comeback, the NRA has tumbled from power. Internal feuds, corruption allegations, and an onslaught of litigation have ravaged the group’s finances and public image. Longtime chief executive Wayne LaPierre stepped down on the eve of a civil corruption trial, with prosecutors claiming he and other NRA leaders cheated donors by squandering millions on personal expenses.

In More Places This Year, People Can Vote in Their First Language

Center for Public Integrity – Katherine Hapgood | Published: 2/2/2024

A larger swath of the country will have access to translated ballots this year than in any prior presidential election. Under federal Voting Rights Act requirements, 331 voting areas in 30 states must provide language access to more than 24 million voters with limited English proficiency. But voter rights activists say the newest numbers, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, represent an undercount.

The Wild Probe into Investors of DWAC, Trump Media’s Proposed Merger Ally

MSN – Drew Harwell (Washington Post) | Published: 2/3/2024

In October 2021, Donald Trump announced that his media company, the owner of the platform Truth Social, had closed a merger with a “special purpose acquisition company (SPAC)” that would deliver to his firm $300 million toward his promise of giving “a voice to all.” By then, however, the insider trading by investors in the SPAC, Digital World Acquisition, had already begun. Digital World’s chief executive, Patrick Orlando, had been telling investors privately for months that he had been talking with Trump about the deal, filings assert, a violation of federal securities law.

Oversight Board Rebukes Meta’s Policies After Altered Biden Video Spreads

MSN – Naomi Nix (Washington Post) | Published: 2/4/2024

Meta was criticized by a company-funded oversight board for its “incoherent” and “confusing” policies on manipulated media after an altered video of President Biden spread on Facebook. The company opted not to remove the video, which had been edited to show Biden appearing to touch his granddaughter inappropriately. The board upheld the decision to leave the video in place but called on the company to clarify its policies amid widespread concerns about the risks of artificial intelligence.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Trump’s Claim of Absolute Immunity

MSN – Alan Feuer and Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 2/6/2024

A federal appeals court rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim that he was immune to charges of plotting to subvert the results of the 2020 election, ruling he must go to trial on a criminal indictment accusing him of seeking to overturn his loss to President Biden. The panel’s ruling signaled an important moment in American jurisprudence, answering a question that had never been addressed by an appeals court: can former presidents escape being held accountable by the criminal justice system for things they did while in office?

DOJ Report on Biden Classified Documents Coming Soon; No Criminal Charges

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/6/2024

The Justice Department is preparing to release a special counsel report that is critical of President Biden and his aides for mishandling classified documents in Biden’s private home and former office, but prosecutors do not plan to pursue criminal charges in the case. Based on what is publicly known about the two classified documents probes, the investigation of Donald Trump seems significantly different from the Biden investigation.

In Stunning Vote, House Republicans Fail to Impeach Secretary Mayorkas

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Amy Wang, Marianna Sotomayor, and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 2/6/2024

A House GOP effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed as three Republicans joined Democrats in voting against what would have been the second-ever impeachment of a Cabinet official. Democrats have decried the process as a sham, with only two hearings that featured no fact witnesses or testimony from the secretary. Even if the measure had passed, Mayorkas was unlikely to have been convicted in a trial in the Democratic-led Senate.

Lawmakers Clash Over ‘Zuckerbucks’ and How to Stop Private Election Funding

MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 2/7/2024

A recent House Administration Committee hearing on private donations helping to fund the administration of elections was contentious. The hearing centered on grants the Center for Tech and Civic Life and related groups provided to state and local election offices in 2020. Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated more than $300 million to the effort. Private funding is now banned or limited in 27 states.

The Evolving Watchdog Group Behind the Ballot Challenge to Trump

Seattle Times – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 2/7/2024

Since it was founded in 2002, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been caught in a tug of war between Democratic donors who wanted it to wage political warfare and less partisan supporters who wanted to expose corruption and ethical lapses regardless of party. Donald Trump’s emergence as a political force changed the equation. During his presidency, CREW was able to satisfy both sides of the internal debate by training its sights almost entirely on him and his allies as they flouted ethics rules.

Special Counsel Questioned Witnesses About 2 Rooms FBI Didn’t Search Inside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Residence: Sources

Yahoo News – Katherine Faulders, Mike Levine, and Alexander Mallin (ABC News) | Published: 2/1/2024

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has questioned several witnesses about a closet and a “hidden room” inside Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago that the FBI did not check while searching the estate in August 2022, sources said. The line of questioning suggests that long after the FBI seized dozens of boxes and more than 100 documents marked classified from Mar-a-Lago, Smith’s team was trying to determine if there might still be more classified material there.

Cast as Criminals, America’s Librarians Rally to Their Own Defense

Yahoo News – Elizabeth Williamson (New York Times) | Published: 2/3/2024

As America’s libraries have become noisy and sometimes dangerous new battlegrounds in the nation’s culture wars, librarians and their allies have moved from the stacks to the front lines. People who normally preside over hushed sanctuaries are now battling groups that demand the mass removal of books and seek to control library governance. Last year, more than 150 bills in 35 states aimed to restrict access to library materials, and to punish library workers who do not comply.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – ‘Issue of Transparency’: Arizona Coyotes’ land interest raises ethics flags for Gov. Katie Hobbs

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 2/6/2024

After voters rejected the Arizona Coyotes’ plans to build a hockey arena and entertainment district in Tempe, the team’s chief executive officer, Xavier Gutierrez, met with Gov. Katie Hobbs. That June meeting came weeks before an application was filed to buy trust land from the Arizona State Land Department under Hobbs’ oversight. Two months later, schedules show Gutierrez had another meeting in the governor’s office. That time, Gutierrez was to meet with Hobbs’ chief of staff, Chad Campbell, a former lobbyist for the Coyotes and whose consulting firm worked on the team’s Tempe campaign before Campbell joined the Hobbs administration.

Arizona – AZ Democrat Accuses Fellow Latina Lawmakers of ‘False Imprisonment’ Over Political Differences

MSN – Ray Stern (Arizona Republic) | Published: 2/8/2024

Arizona Rep. Lydia Hernandez is accusing fellow Democratic Latino caucus members of holding her hostage in her office for more than an hour last year over political differences. Hernandez also tried to lodge a criminal complaint in January with Department of Public Safety troopers at the Capitol about the incident, which she claims occurred after weeks of bullying, bigotry, and ageism by several Democratic lawmakers.

Arizona – Why Arizonans Can’t See Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Fundraising Numbers, but Can See Others

Yahoo News – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 2/2/2024

According to Arizona law, officeholders serving four-year terms who will run for a second term do not have to make details of their campaign finances public for three years. Prior to 2016, candidates and officeholders were required to make public reports at least every year. Under the law, Gov. Katie Hobbs does not have to publicly detail the money flowing to and from her main campaign bank account until January 2026, when she would face reelection. That leaves Arizonans in the dark for all of 2023, 2024, and 2025 as Hobbs has continued fundraising.

California – A Bill for Every Problem? Why California Lawmakers Introduce Longshots

CalMatters – Sameea Kamal | Published: 2/6/2024

It is common practice for California legislators on both sides of the aisle to author bills to make a political statement. Besides bills that are just political statements, dozens of others do not make it into law because they duplicate existing laws or are deemed “solutions in search of a problem.” Party leaders and committee chairpersons might be hard-pressed to block bill introductions.

Colorado – Supreme Court Sounds Broadly Skeptical of Efforts to Kick Trump Off Ballot over Capitol Attack

Associated Press News – Mark Sherman | Published: 2/8/2024

The Supreme Court sounded broadly skeptical of efforts to kick former President Trump off the 2024 ballot. Both conservative and liberal justices raised questions of whether Trump can be disqualified from being president again because of his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election, ending with the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The primary concern was whether Congress must act before states can invoke a constitutional provision  that was adopted after the Civil War to prevent former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again.

Florida – Florida Ethics Board Plans Hearing in Miami Mayor’s Gift Case, Tosses Second Complaint

Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 2/1/2024

The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed a complaint against Miami Mayor Francis Suarez that raised concerns over his use of city police officers as his private security while traveling the country campaigning for president last year. Suarez is still the subject of a second, ongoing inquiry by the commission into his attendance at high-priced sporting events. Ethics officials recently completed their months-long investigation, and a hearing date is expected to be set in regarding that case.

Florida – Government Watchdogs Warn Florida Legislation Would Have Chilling Effect in Ethics Cases

Yahoo News – Ana Ceballos and Joey Flechas (Miami Herald) | Published: 2/2/2024

As local ethics investigators dig into government scandals in Miami, state lawmakers are proposing changes that could reign them in by removing their ability to launch their own investigations into alleged public corruption and ethical violations. The Florida Senate passed a broad ethics package that would bar local ethics panels across the state from investigating misconduct by public officials unless someone with personal knowledge of wrongdoing is willing to identify themselves by name and file a complaint under oath.

Georgia – Larry David Breaks Georgia’s Voting Law in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 2/5/2024

Television comedies like “Veep” and “Parks and Recreation” have poked fun at the absurdities of national and local politics, but it is rare for them to zero in on the fine print of laws passed by state Legislatures. So, it was surprising that the end of the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” took aim at the major voting law Georgia passed in 2021. It highlights a provision that bars third-party groups or anyone else who is not an election worker from providing food and water to voters waiting in line within a 150-foot radius of a polling place.

Illinois – Day in Court Postponed for Former Lawmaker Who Checked into Hospital on Eve of Corruption Trial

Capitol News Illinois – Hannah Meisel | Published: 2/7/2024

On what was supposed to be the third day of the corruption trial of former Illinois Sen. Sam McCann, the onetime third-party candidate for governor instead video-conferenced into U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Lawless’ courtroom from his hospital bed. McCann had checked himself into Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis after feeling unwell. McCann allegedly “engaged in a scheme to convert more than $200,000 in contributions and donations made to his campaign committees to pay himself and make personal purchases,” prosecutors allege.

Illinois – Ex-State Legislator Going on Trial on Tax Counts Stemming from Madigan Probe

Yahoo News – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 2/5/2026

Former Illinois Rep. Annazette Collins’ trial on federal tax charges began nearly three years after she was indicted amid the investigation into an alleged scheme by Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) to bribe then-House Speaker Michael Madigan. Collins, who worked as a ComEd lobbyist after her career in Springfield ended, faces charges alleging she underreported income and failed to file federal income tax returns for her lobbying and consulting firm.

Iowa – Founder of Group That Opposes Book Bans Files Ethics Complaint Against Iowa Lawmaker

Yahoo News – Chris Higgins (Des Moines Register) | Published: 2/2/2024

Sara Hayden Parris, president of Annie’s Foundation, a group that draws attention to book bans and hands out free copies of books that have been challenged or removed from libraries, filed an ethics complaint against state Rep. Jeff Shipley alleging defamation. Hayden Parris alleges Shipley broke the House ethics code and used social media to defame her and falsely accuse her of breaking the law by giving obscene material to children. Her complaint refers to a back-and-forth thread they had on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Louisiana – Campaign Cash Covers Louisiana Officials Tabs at Washington Mardi Gras

Louisiana Illuminator – Julie O’Donoghue | Published: 2/5/2024

Each year, thousands of Louisiana residents kick off carnival season at one of the state’s premiere annual political events, Washington Mardi Gras. The four-day festival features a formal ball, industry group luncheons, panel discussions, fundraisers, and plenty of parties thrown by the politically connected. Private businesses the government regulates are among the most visible sponsors of the event. Louisiana elected officials and candidates spent a total of $605,000 from their campaign accounts and PACs on the 2023 celebration.

Maryland – Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Thiru Vignarajah Could Access Up to $1.7M in Public Money for Campaign

Yahoo News – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 2/5/2024

In his previous three bids for office, Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah has run financially competitive campaigns, some costing upward of $1 million, fueled by donations from some of the region’s most well-funded business executives and community leaders. In 2024, Vignarajah hopes to harness hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money – potentially up to $1.7 million – to help pay for his campaign.

Michigan – Bipartisan Bills Extending FOIA to the Governor and State Lawmakers Gets Senate Hearing

Michigan Advance – Anna Liz Nichols | Published: 2/7/2024

Michigan is one of only two states that broadly exempt the governor’s office and Legislature from Freedom of Information Act requests. New legislation would remedy that, allowing residents and journalists to seek out records to increase accountability in government. But the legislation’s bipartisan sponsors reviewed various special exemptions that will be afforded to the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office, and Legislature outside of exemptions made for other elected officials and state agencies.

New Hampshire – New Hampshire Opens Criminal Probe into AI Calls Impersonating Biden

MSN – Cat Zakrzewski and Pranshu Verma (Washington Post) | Published: 2/6/2024

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella announced a criminal investigation into Life Corp., a Texas-based company that was allegedly behind thousands of AI-generated calls impersonating President Biden in the run-up to the state’s primary elections. A multistate task force is also preparing for potential civil litigation against the company. Formella said the actions were intended to serve notice that New Hampshire and other states will take action if they use AI to interfere in elections.

New York – Scores of N.Y. Public Housing Workers Charged in Record Corruption Case

DNyuz – Jesse McKinley, Mihir Zaveri, and Corey Kilgannon (New York Times) | Published: 2/6/2024

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed bribery and extortion charges against 70 current and former employees of the New York City Housing Authority, a sweeping indictment for a troubled organization. In describing the scheme, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said dozens of employees, including superintendents and assistant superintendents, had taken more than $2 million in bribes from contractors seeking to do work at apartment buildings throughout the city’s five boroughs.

New York – Donors to Adams’ 2025 Campaign Say They Were Secretly Reimbursed Thousands of Dollars

The City – George Joseph (The Guardian), April Xu (Documented), Yoav Gonen, Bianca Pallaro, and Haidee Chu | Published: 2/1/2024

Three donors to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ 2025 re-election campaign recounted in interviews how they, and in two cases their spouses, were reimbursed for a total of more than $10,000 by hotel and construction executives in violation of state law. Suspicions of so-called straw donations spurred an indictment of a fundraising group involved in Adams’ 2021 race, which has led to two guilty pleas, and are part of a federal probe into whether they have been used to veil illegal contributions from the Turkish government.

New York – Eric Adams’ Former NYPD Colleague Pleads Guilty to Orchestrating Straw Donations

Yahoo News – Joe Anuta (Politico) | Published: 2/5/2024

A former colleague of New York City Mayor Eric Adams pleaded guilty to orchestrating a straw donor scheme that allegedly funneled tens of thousands of dollars to Adams’ 2021 campaign. Dwayne Montgomery, whose career in the police department overlapped that of Adams, pleaded guilty to one conspiracy charge. That accusation was one of several included in the original indictment that detailed a scheme to funnel illegal contributions to Adams’ run for office with the hope of reaping kickbacks.

North Dakota – North Dakota Lawmakers Scarcely Declare Conflicts of Interest

North Dakota Monitor – Mary Steurer | Published: 2/5/2024

North Dakota lawmakers are required to speak out if they believe they have a personal or private interest in the outcome of a bill, a policy intended to prevent officials from using their positions for their own personal gain. But conflict declarations are extremely rare. State lawmakers claimed conflicts on bills just three times in 2023.

Ohio – Battle Over the Ohio House: Speaker could be saddled with convicted Householder’s $1.6M debt

MSN – Jake Zuckerman and Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/7/2024

A legal fight over a $1.6 million lease backed by ex-Speaker Larry Householder’s political operation could reverberate in the expensive political battle for control of the Ohio House next year. Just before Householder’s 2020 arrest, his political operation signed a lease for an entire floor of the Chase Tower overlooking the statehouse campus. A slew of criminal convictions scuttled whatever Householder planned with the lease. Now the property managers say they are owed $1.6 million, and they want to collect from current Speaker Jason Stephens’ political arm as he fights to keep control of the chamber.

Ohio – Voting Amendment Backers Accuse Dave Yost of ‘Shameful Abuse of Power’ in New Lawsuit

MSN – Andrew Tobias (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/2/2024

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand state voting laws have sued Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost for refusing to sign off on proposed petition language for the amendment due to its proposed title. The lawsuit asks the state Supreme Court to force Yost to approve the petition language, saying the attorney general’s office only has legal authority to determine whether it accurately summarizes the proposal, not to comment on the title, much less reject the proposal over it.

Oregon – Republican Senators Who Walked Out of Oregon Legislature Can’t Seek Reelection, State Supreme Court Rules

MSN – Carlos Fuentes (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 2/1/2024

The Oregon Supreme Court said 10 state senators who staged a walkout last year to stall bills on abortion, transgender health care, and gun rights cannot run for reelection. The ruling upholds the secretary of state’s decision to disqualify the senators under a voter-approved measure aimed at stopping such boycotts. Measure 113 amended the state constitution to bar lawmakers from reelection if they have more than 10 unexcused absences. Oregon is one of four states that requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to meet a quorum.

Pennsylvania – Philly Sheriff’s Campaign Takes Down Bogus ‘News’ Stories Posted to Site That Were Generated by AI

Yahoo News – Maryclaire Dale and Ali Swenson (Associated Press) | Published: 2/5/2024

The campaign team behind Philadelphia’s embattled sheriff acknowledged that a series of positive “news” stories posted to their site were generated by ChatGPT. It came after a Philadelphia Inquirer story reported that local news outlets could not find the stories in their archives. Experts say this type of misinformation can erode public trust and threaten democracy. Bilal’s campaign said the stories were based on real events.

Rhode Island – Records Show ‘Not Adequate’ Vetting of R.I. Ethics Commission Appointee

MSN – Edward Fitzpatrick (Boston Globe) | Published: 2/1/2024

A public records request showed no sign that Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee’s staff knew about the sexual harassment complaints made by six women against state Ethics Commission nominee Bryant Da Cruz until minutes after his appointment was announced. Emails and text messages regarding McKee’s ill-fated choice for the commission last November show the main question raised was whether Da Cruz could serve on the panel while working as a federal political coordinator for the National Association of Realtors.

South Dakota – South Dakota Apologizes to Transgender Advocacy Group, Will Pay $300K Over Cancelled Contract

Yahoo News – Lauren Sforza (The Hill) | Published: 2/7/2024

South Dakota will pay $300,000 and has apologized to a transgender advocacy group after the state cancelled a contract with the organization. The Transformation Project alleged its contract became a “political liability” after a conservative outlet brought it and one of the group’s planned events to Gov. Kristi Noem’s attention. The group alleged its contract was “abruptly terminated” in December 2022 “based purely on national politics.”

Tennessee – Tennessee’s Legislature Can’t Move Past the Bitter Clashes of 2023

DNyuz – Emily Cochrane (New York Times) | Published: 2/2/2024

Tennessee House Republicans in 2023 expelled state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for leading a gun control protest on the chamber floor, and festering tensions are surfacing even before lawmakers tackle the major work of the 2024 session. With their supermajority, Republicans can easily swat away Democratic objections to their agenda. That ironclad grip has pushed both Democrats and activists to turn to more aggressive tactics to draw attention to their positions.

Texas – When Mental Health Treatment Becomes a Political Identity

DNyuz – J. David Goodman (New York Times) | Published: 2/6/2024

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has spoken openly and often about her mental health, making her struggle with depression an increasingly central part of her political identity. Hidalgo has added her name to a growing list of politicians who have chosen to be public about their mental health. But the approach remains politically risky. Consultants still point to U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, whose history of mental health treatment doomed his prospects as a vice-presidential running mate in 1972.

Texas – Texas AG’s Pursuit of Transgender Medical Records Stirs Privacy Concerns

MSN – Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Washington Post) | Published: 2/2/2024

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is using an exception in federal medical-privacy law to demand records from health-care providers far beyond his state’s borders – any hospitals, clinics, and practices that may have treated transgender youth from Texas. The aggressive attack on the LGBTQ community is one that legal experts say could pose a threat to medical privacy for all.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Supreme Court Grants Ballot Access to Presidential Candidate Dean Phillips

MSN – Jessie Opoien (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 2/2/2024

Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips earned a place on Wisconsin’s primary ballot, the state Supreme Court decided. The court ruled unanimously that the state’s Presidential Preference Selection Committee failed to demonstrate it exercised discretion in keeping Phillips off the ballot. Phillips has challenged similar decisions in Florida and North Carolina.

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