News You Can Use Digest - January 12, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

January 12, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 12, 2024


Democrats Set Ambitious Spending Plan for State Legislative Races

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 1/10/2024

The Democratic Party’s organization that focuses on state legislative races is planning its largest campaign budget ever as it seeks to flip five chambers in three critical swing states, as well as defend three recently earned majorities. The budget – at least $60 million – underscores the importance of state Legislatures. Once dismissed as mere policy laboratories, they have become arbiters of many of the nation’s most pressing political debates.

State Legislators, Wary of Deceptive Election Ads, Tighten A.I. Rules

DNyuz – David Chen (New York Times) | Published: 1/11/2024

Alarmed by the increasing sophistication of what can be false or highly misleading political ads generated by artificial intelligence, state lawmakers are scrambling to draft bills to regulate them. To avoid First Amendment challenges, most lawmakers have focused on requiring those who make, produce, or disseminate the ads disclose the deceptive ads were produced by artificial intelligence. The broad goal, legislators said, was to prevent what has already happened elsewhere, especially in some elections overseas.

Special Counsel Probe Uncovers New Details About Trump’s Inaction on Jan. 6: Sources

MSN – Katherine Faulders, Mike Levine, Alexander Mallin, and Will Steakin (ABC News) | Published: 1/7/2024

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has uncovered previously undisclosed details about former President Trump’s refusal to help stop the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol as he sat watching television inside the White House. Many of the details come from the questioning of Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, Dan Scavino. New information also comes from interviews with other White House advisers and top lawyers who previously declined to answer questions about Trump’s own statements and demeanor on January 6, 2021.

Violent Political Threats Surge as 2024 Begins, Haunting American Democracy

MSN – Sarah Ellison, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 1/9/2024

Violent threats and acts of intimidation have defined the lives of various government officials since the 2020 election. Now they are casting a shadow over the 2024 campaign as Americans prepare to vote in the primary season. Those on the receiving end span the range of the country’s democratic system, including members of Congress, state officials, local leaders, and judges. While some are prominent, others have relatively low-profile roles. The intensity has accelerated in recent weeks.

Most Jan. 6 Defendants Get Time Behind Bars, but Less Than U.S. Seeks

MSN – Tom Jackman and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 1/5/2024

Three years after the U.S. Capitol attack, federal judges in Washington have sentenced more than half of the roughly 1,200 people charged in the largest investigation in U.S. history and have handed down lighter punishments for January 6 assault convictions compared with similar assault cases nationally. Judges have ordered prison time for nearly every defendant convicted of a felony and some jail time to about half of those convicted of misdemeanors.

Wayne LaPierre Resigns from N.R.A. with Trial Set to Open

MSN – Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 1/5/2024

On the eve of a legal battle in New York, Wayne LaPierre said he would step down as the longtime chief of the National Rifle Association (NRA). He has led the NRA, once one of the nation’s most prominent lobbying organizations, for more than three decades. LaPierre played a leading role in transforming gun culture in America, but the last half decade of his tenure was marred by scandals and internal upheaval. In recent years, the group has been in a tailspin.

Judges Skeptical That Trump Is Immune from Jan. 6 Prosecution

MSN – Rachel Weiner, Spencer Hsu, Perry Stein, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 1/9/2024

A panel of three federal appellate judges expressed skepticism about Donald Trump’s claim to sweeping immunity from criminal prosecution and concerns about its implications, suggesting it would allow a future president to have a political rival assassinated by the military without repercussions. Trump argues he cannot be tried for trying to overturn the 2020 election results because he was acquitted by the Senate of inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. James Pearce, a Justice Department attorney, called that “an extraordinarily frightening” proposition.

Vocal Anti-Trump Candidate Chris Christie Exits Presidential Race with Hot Mic Moment

NPR – Jeongyoon Han | Published: 1/10/2024

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ended his presidential campaign after his criticism of Donald Trump’s leadership and role in the Republican Party proved to diverge too far from where the GOP currently stands. His announcement was somewhat overshadowed by a hot mic moment ahead of a town hall. Christie’s mic went live as he was speaking about his presidential rivals. Of Haley, he praised her for “punching above her weight” but said “she’s going to get smoked.” On Ron DeSantis, he said the Florida governor “is petrified” before his mic was abruptly cut.

The Changing Congressional Map Is Shifting the Fight for Control of the House

Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 1/8/2024

The partisan tilt of a handful of districts could still change dramatically before voters even go to the polls this year, shifting who has the upper hand in the battle for control the U.S. House. Republicans hold just a three-seat majority and various congressional maps across the country have already been redrawn since the midterms thanks to drawn-out court battles, some of which have yet to be resolved.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – Alaska Ranked Choice Voting Opponents Fined Over $94K for Campaign Ethics Violations

Anchorage Daily News – Iris Samuels | Published: 1/4/2024

Supporters of an effort to repeal the state’s ranked choice voting system were fined more than $94,000 after the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) found campaign finance violations. APOC said Anchorage pastor Art Mathias and groups he founded funneled most of their funding through a tax-exempt church and inaccurately reporting their funding. The fines come a month before the deadline for opponents of Alaska’s voting system to submit at least 26,000 signatures from voters as they seek to put the question of repealing the state’s system on the 2024 ballot.

California – Burger Chain Manager Fined for Using ‘Straw Donors’ to Back Ex-Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s 2018 Campaign

MSN – Keri Blakinger (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/10/2024

Manuel Gomez, a burger chain manager, will admit guilt on 10 counts of campaign money laundering and pay a $50,000 fine for using straw donors to contribute to former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s campaign, according to a settlement with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Records show Villanueva, his 2018 campaign, and his then-campaign treasurer agreed to pay a total of $7,500 for violating reporting requirements and failing to return some of the money.

California – San Jose Bans ‘Foreign-Influenced Corporations’ from Political Donations

San Jose Spotlight – Jana Kadah | Published: 1/10/2024

The San Jose City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits “foreign-influenced corporations” from donating in city races. It will go into effect in 30 days, just one month before the March 5 primary elections. Federal and state laws already prohibit foreign individuals from making contributions or independent expenditures to candidates. But foreign companies with domestic subsidiaries can contribute as long as the donations are made by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

California – DWP Board Members Held Private Contract Talks with Vendor, Prompting Ethics Questions

Yahoo News – Dakota Smith and Richard Winton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/5/2024

Two members of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commission privately discussed a contract with executives of a cybersecurity company, an exchange that is raising concerns from ethics experts. Then-commission President Mel Levine and then-Vice President Cynthia McClain-Hill held a phone call in 2019 with two executives to walk them through the utility’s plans to award them a contract. The city’s ethics law bars commissioners from privately participating in the review or negotiation of contracts they will vote on. The commission’s rules also bar commissioners from having private discussions about bids with vendors.

Colorado – Supreme Court Says It Will Decide If Trump Qualifies for Colorado Ballot

MSN – Ann Marimow and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 1/6/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether Donald Trump should be disqualified from the primary ballot in Colorado. The state Supreme Court disqualified the Republican front-runner, finding he engaged in an insurrection before and during the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The announcement puts the justices in a pivotal position with echoes of the court’s involvement in the 2000 election, when its decision assured victory for George W. Bush, polarized the nation and damaged the court’s reputation as an independent institution.

Florida – Court Sends Case of Prosecutor Suspended by DeSantis Back to Trial Judge Over First Amendment Issues

Associated Press News – Curt Anderson | Published: 1/10/2024

A Democratic prosecutor suspended by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will get another chance to show his political advocacy was protected by the First Amendment and could not be the basis for his removal, a federal appeals court panel ruled. The ruling sends the case involving ex-prosecutor Andrew Warren back to a trial judge to determine if the governor’s suspension was improperly focused on statements Warren signed opposing certain legislation to criminalize abortion and gender care.

Florida – Florida GOP Ousts Chairman Under Investigation for Alleged Rape

MSN – Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 1/8/2024

The Republican Party of Florida removed its chairperson, Christian Ziegler, from his job as in the midst of a sexual assault investigation. Ziegler is accused of raping a woman who had previously engaged in a tryst with him and his wife, Bridget. Christian Ziegler rejects the allegations. Sarasota police are investigating the incident but have not yet filed charges. Bridget Ziegler is a co-founder of the far-right group Moms for Liberty. As a Sarasota County school board member, she has pushed an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

Georgia – Who Will Investigate One of Georgia’s Most Ambitious Politicians in the Trump Case?

DNyuz – Richard Fausset (New York Times) | Published: 1/4/2024

Since the indictment of Donald Trump and his allies on election interference charges in Georgia, a question has gone unanswered: would criminal charges also be coming for Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. He was one of the 16 Republicans who acted as fake electors to overturn Trump’s 2020 defeat. Three of them are charged with felonies. But a judge blocked the Fulton County district attorney who led the investigation from developing a case against Jones, citing a conflict-of-interest because she had headlined a fundraiser for a Democratic who became his rival in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Georgia – Trump Claims Immunity from Prosecution in Georgia Election Case

MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 1/8/2024

Donald Trump urged a judge to dismiss charges he illegally conspired to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, claiming his alleged actions were at the “heart” of his sworn responsibilities as president and he is immune from criminal prosecution. The arguments from Steve Sadow, an Atlanta attorney representing Trump in the Georgia case, largely echo immunity claims made by the former president’s defense team in the separate federal election interference case against him.

Hawaii – Full Public Financing of Elections Is Being Revived at Hawaii Legislature

Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair | Published: 1/11/2024

Hawaii Sen. Karl Rhoads will resurrect a bill that would establish a comprehensive public campaign financing system intended to attract a more diverse pool of candidates. It would give grants to qualifying candidates who are able to demonstrate sufficient support from voters. In states that have similar programs such as Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona, the systems increase the diversity of candidates, in particular drawing people who are younger and from less traditional backgrounds.

Illinois – Ed Burke Is Still in Line for Millions in Payouts from Pension, Campaign Funds After Corruption Conviction

Chicago Sun-Times – Mitchell Armentrout and Tim Novack | Published: 1/5/2024

Under Illinois law, former Ald. Edward Burke is likely to be stripped of the $8,027-a-month city pension he started collecting last May on the day after ending his record 54-year reign in the Chicago City Council. But he will get at least the more than $540,000 he paid into the fund. The disgraced former council member is in line for a more substantial payout from his campaign fund, which he can use to pay himself or his family members almost $2.5 million, no questions asked, thanks to a loophole in state campaign finance law.

Illinois – City Council Ethics Package Could Face Uphill Fight Without Johnson in the Lead

MSN – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/7/2024

In the wake of former Ald. Edward Burke’s racketeering conviction, his onetime colleagues on the Chicago City Council are faced with the choice of whether to hold themselves to tougher ethical standards. They are largely weighing that decision without input from Mayor Brandon Johnson, who, unlike his predecessor, is taking a hands-off approach to anti-corruption reforms. The fresh debate is spurred by a slew of new recommendations from the Board of Ethics tightening rules for city contractors, campaign fundraising, and advertising that a key committee chairman pledged to take up in the new year.

Kansas – New Wichita City Council Member Moves to Undo Ban on Corporate Political Donations

Yahoo News – Matthew Kelly (Wichita Eagle) | Published: 1/9/2024

The Wichita City Council will vote on an ordinance that would undo the ban on corporate political donations in municipal enacted recently. The ordinance passed on January 2 passed in former Mayor Brandon Whipple’s last meeting on the job. Whipple declared an emergency before the vote, allowing the council to finalize the reform immediately and forgo the standard second reading that would have otherwise been required.

Kentucky – Weddle Blames Beshear Fundraiser for Letting Him Make Illegal Political Contributions

Kentucky Lantern – Tom Loftus | Published: 1/9/2024

London Mayor Randall Weddle says he told a fundraiser for Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection in late 2022 that he planned to make political contributions of others on his credit card, but instead of being warned such a move would be illegal, the fundraiser told Weddle, “Okay sounds great.” The Registry of Election Finance filed a complaint against Weddle for violating a law that prohibits a person from making a campaign donation in the name of another.

Louisiana – Newly Sworn In, Louisiana’s Governor Calls for Special Session to Draw New Congressional Map

ABC News – Sara Cline (Associated Press) | Published: 1/8/2024

In his first hours in office, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry called a special session on redistricting, giving lawmakers the opportunity to draw and replace the state’s current congressional map a federal judge said violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. But the session looks to go beyond just tackling Louisiana’s congressional map, with the governor issuing a list of other issues to address, including redrawing state Supreme Court districts and moving away from Louisiana’s current open primary election system to a closed one.

Louisiana – Council Looks to Clean Up New Orleans’ Procurement Process Following Scathing IG Report

MSN – David Jones (WVUE) | Published: 1/9/2024

Two months after a scathing report from the inspector general, a New Orleans City Council member is looking to clean up the city’s procurement process for the awarding of contracts by introducing three pieces of new legislation. The report concerned alleged bid-rigging in the procurement process for the now-abandoned “Smart Cities” project. It says two city employees might have violated state ethics law in awarding a contract for the project.

Massachusetts – Liberal Group Files Challenge to Remove Trump from Massachusetts Primary Ballot

MSN – Matt Stoudt (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/5/2024

A labor lawyer and a liberal group filed a challenge seeking to remove Donald Trump from Massachusetts’ Republican presidential primary ballot, echoing arguments in other states that the former president is ineligible to serve in the White House under the Constitution’s insurrection clause. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has argued even if Trump is found guilty of inciting an insurrection and is therefore ineligible to serve as president, he can still be on the ballot in Massachusetts.

Michigan – Michigan Republicans Hold Disputed Vote to Remove Party Leader

Yahoo News – Nick Corasaniti and Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 1/6/2024

Simmering tensions within the Michigan Republican Party boiled over with some party officials voting to remove their embattled chairperson, Kristina Karamo, in a contentious proceeding that she and other state Republicans argued was illegitimate. The showdown, which occurred at a meeting held by a breakaway faction of the state party, now appears likely to wind up in court.

Minnesota – All-Female City Council Marks a ‘Turning Point’ for a Twin City

DNyuz – Remy Tumin (New York Times) | Published: 1/10/2024

St. Paul, Minnesota, is believed to be among the largest cities in the country to have the distinction of having an all-female City Council. But the firsts do not stop there: all seven council members are under 40 years old, and six are women of color, making it the youngest and most racially diverse council in the city’s history. Although the new makeup of the council may surprise some, several demographic shifts in St. Paul over the past few decades helped pave the way for this moment.

Missouri – Missouri Defends Lobbying Waiting Period for Lawmakers at Eighth Circuit

Courthouse News Service – Joe Harris | Published: 1/9/2024

A federal appeals court heard arguments challenging a voter-approved, two-year waiting period between serving in the Missouri Legislature and accepting payment for lobbying services. The plaintiffs claim the law violates their right to free speech. Jason Lewis of the Missouri attorney general’s office argued the General Assembly has the right to restrict employment.

New Jersey – N.J. Moving to Change Ethics Laws for Cannabis, Which Could Help Top Democrat

MSN – Jelani Gibson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 1/7/2024

A new bill would potentially help the vice chairperson of New Jersey’s State Democratic Committee, Peg Schaffer, to stay within the cannabis industry as the party’s chair continues to function as a lobbyist on behalf of well-financed companies. Schaffer recently accepted a board position at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. She is the president and managing principal of a law firm. Schaffer’s job at the authority holds the risk of running afoul of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws when it comes to representing cannabis applicants.

New York – N.Y. Seeks $370 Million in Trump Fraud Trial Instead of $250 Million

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 1/5/2024

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a $370 million penalty against Donald Trump and his company instead of the $250 million the state sought when it filed a civil fraud lawsuit in 2022. The filing was the first time James has publicly cited a specific higher penalty than what was included in the original lawsuit. The company was accused of purposely misleading lenders and insurance companies about Trump’s net worth by up to $2.2 billion per year from 2011 to 2021 to get better terms in business deals.

North Dakota – North Dakota Ethics Commission Sees Uptick in Complaints

North Dakota Monitor – Mary Steuer | Published: 1/8/2024

Complaints to the North Dakota Ethics Commission have been on the rise since late 2022, though in most cases, state law requires filings to be kept confidential unless the commission determines them to be substantiated. Twenty-four of 45 complaints were dismissed upon initial review. One reason why so many complaints were dismissed is because the commission has very limited jurisdiction.

Ohio – Ginther’s Public Service Director Leaving for New Job

MSN – Bill Bush (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 1/5/2024

Jennifer Gallagher is resigning as director of the Columbus Department of Public Service is resigning. Emails released by the city attorney’s office Friday suggest Gallagher remains the subject of an investigation launched by the Ohio Ethics Commission in 2022. A complaint concerns a $480,000 contract Gallagher’s department awarded to a firm that employed her husband. Ohio law generally prohibits public officials from awarding or influencing contracts in which a family member has an interest.

Ohio – Transgender Ohio House Hopeful Appeals Disqualification for Not Listing Birth Name on Paperwork

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/4/2024

A transgender woman running for an Ohio House seat has been disqualified for failing to disclose her former name on petitions circulated to voters, in violation of a seldom-enforced state law. Stark County election officials informed Vanessa Joy that she was not eligible to be on the ballot despite having collected the signatures necessary to run. Officials said Joy violated a law requiring candidates for public office to list any name changes over the previous five years on their signature petitions.

Ohio – Voting, Disability Rights Advocates Claim Ohio Photo Voter ID Law Violates Federal Disabilities Law

Ohio Capital Journal – Nick Evans | Published: 1/5/2024

Starting last year, Ohioans had to present a photo ID to cast a vote. The new law also reduced the number of days available for early voting and for returning absentee ballots. Now, the League of Women Voters is challenging the law over a different set of provisions. It imposes a limited list of individuals “authorized” to return absentee ballots on behalf of someone else. A lawsuit contends that restrictive list violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by imposing “extreme burdens to vote that voters without disabilities will never face.”

Rhode Island – Ethics Complaint Against Shekarchi Over 2017 Wedding Farm Bill Dismissed. Here’s Why

Yahoo News – Patrick Anderson (Providence Journal) | Published: 1/9/2024

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission cleared House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi of conflict-of- interest accusations brought by the state Republican Party over his vote seven years ago for a bill that sought to legalize weddings on large farms. The commission found there was no probable cause that Shekarchi violated the ethics code to benefit a campaign donor.

South Dakota – South Dakota Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Lawmaker Conflict of Interest

Yahoo News – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 1/8/2024

The South Dakota Supreme Court heard lawyers from the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the Legislature make a case as to why the justices should issue an opinion more clearly defining what a conflict-of-interest is within the state constitution. Attorneys took questions from the justices related to whether establishing a new standard in the law would be enough to accurately define what is a direct or indirect conflict-of-interest when a lawmaker votes on bills for funding state government and its operations.

Texas – Former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores Accused of Cribbing Others’ Pictures of Mexican Food as Her Own Cooking

Texas Tribune – Robert Downen | Published: 1/3/2024

In a bizarre micro-scandal that some have dubbed “GrubGate,” a former member of Congress who is running for her old seat in South Texas, Mayra Flores, is being accused of routinely stealing photos of Mexican food from other social media accounts and passing them off as her own cooking. That prompted the website Current Revolt to dig further into Flores’ social media accounts, where they found numerous other posts in which she used others’ photos of campfire cooking or homemade tortillas to illustrate her own idyllic life on a ranch.

Vermont – Vermont Senate Beefs Up Financial Disclosure Requirements in Response to VTDigger Reporting – Paul Heinz | Published: 1/4/2024

The Vermont Senate voted to mandate its own members publicly disclose additional information about their personal finances and potential conflicts-of-interest. VTDigger had documented how difficult it was for Vermonters to obtain information about their legislators and how little was revealed by mandatory disclosure forms. After VTDigger published the first story in the series last April, the Senate moved to post members’ financial disclosure forms online for the first time.

Wyoming – New Rules Would Allow Ousting Wyoming Legislators Accused or Convicted of Felonies

Cowboy State Daily – Leo Wolfson | Published: 1/9/2024

A new slate of proposed ethics complaint rules for the Wyoming Legislature would allow for the expulsion of members who are accused or convicted of felonies as private citizens, in and outside of the legislative session. The proposed rules adopt a clear procedure for the House speaker or Senate president to more quickly dismiss frivolous complaints as a way to mitigate the potential of the complaint process being weaponized.

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