News You Can Use Digest - January 19, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

January 19, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 19, 2024


A New Republican Mom Wants to Change House Rules for Postpartum Voting

DNyuz – Anni Karni (New York Times) | Published: 1/16/2024

When she arrived in Congress last year, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a hard-right Republican from Florida, joined the rest of her party in staunchly opposing proxy voting, a practice adopted by House Democrats to allow for remote legislating during the pandemic. Then, in August, she gave birth to her first child and her perspective changed. Now, Luna is pressing to allow new mothers in Congress to stay away from Washington immediately after giving birth and designate a colleague to cast votes on the House floor on their behalf.

Do Political Ads Even Matter Anymore?

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 1/17/2024

Political ads are a deeply entrenched multimillion-dollar industry, and one of the largest expenses of every presidential campaign. But a confluence of political forces and changing media behavior may be testing the efficacy of advertising in the Donald Trump era. The Iowa caucus results showed a new depth to the Republican Party’s devotion to Trump. But it also suggests a smaller universe of persuadable voters and a wholesale shift in viewing habits may have significantly undercut the impact of political advertising.

Court Rejects Twitter’s Claim of Right to Alert Trump to Jan. 6 Search

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 1/16/2024

A federal appeals court rejected Twitter’s claim that Donald Trump should have been alerted to the existence of a search warrant for his data by prosecutors investigating interference in the 2020 election, leaving in place a $350,000 fine imposed on the social media company for not complying on time. Twitter, now known as X, argued it had a First Amendment right to alert Trump, who might then fight the disclosure himself.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy Ends Bid for Republican Presidential Nomination

MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 1/15/2024

Vivek Ramaswamy, a wealthy entrepreneur and first-time candidate for office, suspended his long shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination after months of struggling to gain significant ground, further shrinking a field dominated by Donald Trump. Ramaswamy failed to gain much traction with a campaign that emphasized provocative policy positions and public disputes with some of his fellow GOP candidates, even as he largely avoided criticism of Trump.

Authorities Investigate Threats to Democratic Lawmakers

Seattle Times – Alan Feuer and Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 1/16/2024

The Capitol Police and the FBI are investigating remarks reported to have been made by Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative and informal adviser to former President Trump, in which he expressed a desire for the deaths of two Democratic lawmakers in the weeks before the 2020 election. The investigation was opened shortly after the website Mediaite released an audio recording in which someone sounding like Stone can be heard discussing U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Eric Swalwell, who are among Trump’s most vocal congressional critics.

A Potentially Huge Supreme Court Case Has a Hidden Conservative Backer

Yahoo News – Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times) | Published: 1/16/2024

The Supreme Court heard arguments that, on paper, are about a group of commercial fishermen who oppose a government fee that they consider unreasonable. But the lawyers who have helped to propel their case to the nation’s highest court have a far more powerful backer: petrochemicals billionaire Charles Koch. A victory for the fishermen would very likely severely limit the power of many federal agencies to regulate not only fisheries and the environment, but also health care, finance, telecommunications, and other activities, legal experts say.

Supreme Court Ruling in Trump Insurrection Case Could Prompt Challenges Down the Ballot

Yahoo News – Michael Wilner (Miami Herald) | Published: 1/18/2024

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes to consider whether Donald Trump is disqualified from the ballot in Colorado over his attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, their ultimate ruling will have implications well beyond Trump’s candidacy. Court watchers see the case as a wild card testing a novel and explosive legal theory on the eligibility of insurrectionists to hold public office.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – The Arizona Legislature’s ‘Hell Week’: Money, mingling and moving fast

MSN – Mary Jo Pitzl (Arizona Republic) | Published: 1/13/2024

A longstanding tradition, “Hell Week” is the brief period in which Arizona lawmakers and lobbyists move from event to event, all to enhance campaign accounts and establish connections before the start of the legislative session triggers a ban on lobbyist contributions to lawmakers. Despite the deadline-driven frenzy, “Hell Week” is unnecessary, said Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist with 34 years of experience. Goodman views the practice as an artifact. “It’s almost ceremonial now,” he said.

Arizona – Arizona AG Says Hobbs’ Inauguration Didn’t Break Law. A Key Republican Lawmaker Disagrees

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 1/18/2024

The inauguration of Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs over a year ago continues to prompt scrutiny at the state Capitol, with at least one Republican lawmaker now questioning Attorney General Kris Mayes’ role and determination that there were no legal violations related to fundraising for the events. Rep. David Livingston filed a complaint with Mayes’ office alleging Hobbs’ use of a state website to solicit donors and sell tickets for her inaugural festivities violated state law that prohibits public resources including webpages from being used to influence an election.

Arizona – Judge Says No Labels Can Block Candidates from Running for Offices Other Than President in Arizona

Yahoo News – Jonathan Cooper (Associated Press) | Published: 1/16/2024

No Labels, the group preparing for a possible third-party presidential campaign, can prohibit members from using its ballot line to run for office in Arizona, a federal judge ruled. The decision protects the group’s efforts to maintain control and secrecy around its operations and finances as critics of Donald Trump warn No Labels could help return Trump to the White House by siphoning voters who might otherwise vote for the former president.

California – Company Passed Over for Redevelopment of Sports Arena Fined for Late Lobbying Reports

MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 1/17/2024

Midway Village Plus, which was passed over for the redevelopment of San Diego’s sports arena property, agreed to pay $7,500 for belatedly reporting its indirect lobbying activity in the matter. Midway Village Plus retained Manolatos Public Affairs and IVC Media to support its application for the redevelopment. It spent almost $80,000 in indirect lobbying over five three-month quarters without reporting the expenditures as required.

California – DWP Board President Is Out Amid Ethics Questions, Power Struggle at Utility

MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/9/2024

Cynthia McClain-Hill will step down as president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commission following ethics-related complaints involving her and growing tensions over the utility’s leadership. The Los Angeles Times reported on criticism leveled against McClain-Hill and then-commission President Mel Levine, over a private phone call the pair had in 2019 with two cybersecurity executives to walk them through the utility’s plans to award their company a new contract.

Florida – Florida Bill Could Outlaw Use of Artificial Intelligence in Campaign Ads

Center Square – Andrew Powell | Published: 1/16/2024

A Florida Senate committee approved a bill that will regulate the use of artificial intelligence in campaign ads. The Committee on Ethics and Elections also approved several bills related to campaign finance and one that would limit the terms of county commissioners.

Florida – City of Miami Moves to Create an Independent Inspector to Investigate Corruption

WLRN – Joshua Ceballos | Published: 1/12/2024

The Miami City Commission moved on an agenda item to create a new body to hold the government accountable. It places on the August ballot a question that would replace the city’s existing independent auditor with the Office of the Independent Inspector General. Commissioner Manolo Reyes said an inspector general would have a wider scope of duties and powers than the auditor and would have more latitude to independently investigate corruption.

Florida – Lubby Navarro Spent Lavishly on Ex-Boyfriend’s Restaurant and Him, Investigators Say

Yahoo News – David Goodhue (Miami Herald) | Published: 1/13/2024

Former Miami-Dade School Board member Lubby Navarro was arrested on grand theft and fraud charges stemming from $92,000 worth of illegal purchases on her school district credit card and another $9,000 on her district-issued travel card. The money was allegedly used for day-to-day personal spending, as well as lavish vacations and gifts. Prosecutors say Navarro took her boyfriend at the time on a trip to Las Vegas. After they broke up, she is accused of using district money to purchase two artificial silicone pregnancy bellies on Amazon to convince him that she was pregnant.

Illinois – Watchdog: Treasurer Conyears-Ervin fired employees after they warned she was violating ethics ordinance by using city resources to host prayer service

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 1/16/2024

Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin fired two city employees after they warned her that she was violating the city’s government ethics ordinance by using city resources to host a prayer service, according to a probe by the city’s watchdog. In December 2020, Conyears-Ervin was admonished by the Board of Ethics for using her professional social media accounts to broadcast a prayer service she led in violation of rules that prohibit city leaders from using city resources for non-official purposes.

Indiana – Illegal Bribe or Legitimate ‘Gratuity’: How a $13,000 payment to an Indiana mayor could alter political corruption cases in Chicago

MSN – Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, and Amy Lavall (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/14/2024

Portage Mayor James Snyder was in financial trouble when he showed up unannounced at Great Lakes Peterbilt, the local truck dealership he helped to win two lucrative city contracts. “I need money. That’s what I’m here for,” he told the owners. They cut Snyder a check for $13,000, saying it was for “consulting” that was never fully performed. That agreement is the focus of a legal battle that has wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has decided to take up Snyder’s appeal and render a decision that could change the face of public corruption prosecutions across the country, including Chicago.

Iowa – Trump Scores Decisive Win in Iowa Caucuses, DeSantis Places Second

MSN – Ashley Parker and Tyler Pager (Washington Post) | Published: 1/15/2024

Donald Trump romped to a decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses, cementing his grip over the Republican Party and pushing the nation closer to a historic modern rematch with President Biden. Trump’s strong finish in the caucuses underscored his dominance over his party’s base, in a presidential contest expected to play out as much in the courtroom as the campaign trail.

Kansas – Listen to Lobbyists When Enjoying Free Meals, Top Kansas Legislator Tells Colleagues

Yahoo News – Jason Alatidd (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 1/16/2024

A few minutes before gaveling in for the first day of the 2024 legislative session, a top legislator reminded his colleagues to listen to lobbyists when enjoying free meals this year. House Majority Leader Chris Croft told the House Republican caucus the purpose of those free meals is for lobbyists to get to talk to lawmakers.

Maine – Maine Judge Delays Trump Ballot Decision Until Supreme Court Ruling

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2024

A Maine judge put off deciding whether Donald Trump’s name can appear on that state’s primary ballot, saying the U.S. Supreme Court needs to rule on the issue first in a similar case from Colorado. The ruling sent the case back to Maine’s secretary of state and put it on hold. A nationwide push from Trump’s critics is aiming to prevent the former president from running for office again.

Maryland – Maryland Elections Board Member Arrested on Jan. 6 Riot Charges Resigns

MSN – Erin Cox (Washington Post) | Published: 1/11/2024

A top Maryland elections official was arrested recently on multiple charges that he participated in the U.S. Capitol attack and encouraged officers trying to disperse rioters to “join us.” Federal investigators allege Carlos Ayala scaled a police barricade while carrying a black flag that said, “DEFEND” and depicted an M-16-style rifle. The Maryland Senate unanimously confirmed Ayala in March as one of the Republican Party’s two representatives on the five-member Board of Elections.

Michigan – FEC Greenlights Airing of ‘The Good Doctor’ During Harper’s Senate Campaign in Michigan

Detroit News – Melissa Nann Burke | Published: 1/12/2024

The FEC voted to greenlight the airing of past and future episodes of ABC’s “The Good Doctor” featuring the actor Hill Harper, who is running for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. Lawyers for Sony Pictures Television had asked the FEC for an advisory opinion to confirm the airing of a fictional television show with a cast member who is a candidate for federal office did not violate federal prohibitions on contributions by corporations or regulations on communications referring to a candidate.

Michigan – Former GOP State Rep. Larry Inman Acquitted of Federal Corruption Charges

Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 1/11/2024

Former Michigan Rep. Larry Inman was acquitted of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe, capping a years-long legal odyssey. Inman was standing trial for a second time. A 2019 trial ended with him acquitted of lying to the FBI and with jurors unable to reach unanimous verdicts on the corruption charges. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker dismissed the bribery and extortion charges, but the move was reversed by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

New Jersey – South Jersey Dem Delegation Paved the Way for ‘Jersey Freedom’ to Hide Donors, Sources Say

Yahoo News – Matt Freidman (Politico) | Published: 1/11/2024

An obscure provision of New Jersey’s campaign finance law that enabled a Democratic super PAC to operate in secrecy until after the November election was pushed by South Jersey’s Democratic legislative delegation, according to three officials with knowledge of the negotiations. Amendments to the Elections Transparency Act enabled the PAC, Jersey Freedom, to hide the source of its funding until three weeks after the election. That appears to have been by design, said a Republican senator who was attacked by the group.

New York – As Trump Continues to Insult E. Jean Carroll, 2nd Defamation Trial Opens

DNyuz – Benjamin Weiser, Maggie Haberman, and Maria Cramer (New York Times) | Published: 1/15/2024

A Manhattan jury will be asked a narrow question: How much money must Donald Trump pay the writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him of raping her? A jury in May awarded Carroll just over $2 million for the assault and nearly $3 million for defamation over Trump’s remark in October 2022 calling her claim “a complete con job.” The new trial focuses on separate statements by Trump in June 2019, directly after Carroll disclosed her allegation in New York magazine.

New York – Albany Democrats to Push Bill Filling Lobbying Loophole After NY Gov. Kathy Hochul Veto

MSN – Vaughn Golden (New York Post) | Published: 1/13/2024

Democrats in Albany plan to take another shot at filling a loophole that allows groups to anonymously fund lobbying campaigns on powerful state posts after Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed the bill. Last year’s version of the bill would have forced the shadowy groups who spent large sums of cash trying to defend Justice Hector LaSalle, her pick to head the state’s highest court, to file lobbying disclosures. A gap in state law means groups can advertise and lobby on nominations without the same disclosures they would have to make with any legislation.

North Carolina – NC Councilman Resigned So He Could Accept $3M in Tax Money. Then He Rejoined the Council

Yahoo News – Josh Bergeron (Charlotte Observer) | Published: 1/16/2024

A longtime Kannapolis City Council member resigned in December so he could avoid a conflict-of-interest and accept $3 million in federal tax money. But a month later, he is back on the job. Tom Kincaid’s surprise reappointment drew criticism from three of his colleagues, who are raising concerns about ethics. The reappointment was possible, two of the council members said, only because Councilmember Doug Wilson, who would have voted “no,” was absent from the meeting.

North Carolina – Insurance Commissioner Pays Friend & Donor a High Wage to Drive Him on State Business

Yahoo News – Dan Kane and Kyle Ingram (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 1/16/2024

Since North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey took office in 2017, a longtime friend and campaign supporter has been driving him at public expense from his Greensboro home to his Raleigh office and as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, earning as much as $84,000 in one year. Causey and other Insurance Department officials described Roger Blackwell as a part-time driver who also provides security. But personnel records give him a much loftier title that pays a wage higher than most state workers earn. He is listed as a part-time “Deputy Secretary/Commissioner I,” which allows him to be paid $44 an hour.

North Carolina – NC Justice Anita Earls Withdraws Lawsuit Against Board That Investigated Her

Yahoo News – Kyle Ingram (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 1/17/2024

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls voluntarily withdrew her lawsuit against the ethics commission that was investigating her, saying the suit was no longer necessary since the complaint against her had been dismissed. The Judicial Standards Commission had opened an investigation into Earls after she publicly commented on issues involving diversity in the judicial system. Earls first sued the commission in August, saying its investigation into her public comments violated her First Amendment rights.

Ohio – Ohio Supreme Court OKs Freeze on Millions from Ex-State Official Randazzo After Bribery Accusation

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/16/2024

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Sam Randazzo, the former chairperson of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), allowing the state to continue to freeze millions of dollars of his financial assets. Randazzo has been accused of accepting a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy just before starting as PUCO’s chief in 2019 in exchange for regulatory favors to the company and helping see to the passage of bailout legislation worth more than $1 billion to FirstEnergy.

Ohio – $15k on Tickets. $2k/Month on Meals. Inside a Cleveland-Area House Rep’s Campaign Spending

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/14/2024

A Cleveland-area state lawmaker spent tens of thousands of political contributions to his campaign account on football tickets, car repairs, airfare, monthly bills to three different phone providers, and more. Auditors on five occasions over the past 10 years have flagged Rep. Tom Patton’s spending, which at times has not had a clear connection to his campaigns. In some cases, staff with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office have cautioned Patton that state law bars politicians from using campaign funds for their personal use.

Oklahoma – ‘We Have Put Ourselves in Grave Danger:’ Ethics commission urges lawmakers to increase funding

MSN – M. Scott Carter and Nolan Clay (The Oklahoman) | Published: 1/13/2024

Chronically underfunded and facing ongoing staffing shortages, the new executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is calling on state lawmakers to restore the agency’s funding to what it was in 2016. Lee Anne Bruce Boone told lawmakers the commission could not really do its job with its current level of funding. Legislators only gave the commission $687,950 for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Oregon – Oregon Supreme Court Allows Trump to Appear on Primary Ballot

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 1/12/2024

The Oregon Supreme Court allowed Donald Trump to run in the state’s presidential primary, saying it would not take up the issue of whether he is qualified to get on the ballot while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge on the issue from Colorado. The Supreme Court decision will likely resolve for all states whether Trump can run in 2024. Without a Supreme Court ruling, some states could keep Trump’s name off the ballot while others allow him to run.

Oregon – State Ethics Commission Chooses Insider to Be Next Executive Director

Oregon Capital Chronicle – Lynne Terry | Published: 1/11/2024

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission chose one of its own to be its next executive director. The panel voted in favor of promoting Susan Myers, a commission employee since 2018 and its current compliance and education coordinator. Before serving as the compliance and education coordinator, Myers was an investigator for the agency between 2018 and 2021.

Rhode Island – Providence NAACP President Stands Trial for Campaign Finance Violations

MSN – Steph Machado (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/17/2024

Gerard Catala, the embattled president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, stood trial for allegedly violating campaign finance laws when he ran for city council in 2022. Catala has seven past-due campaign finance reports and owes fines in excess of $26,000. His criminal case has prompted frustration from some members of the NAACP, who have called on him to resign.

Tennessee – Election Cycle Tests New Lobbyist Ethics Code

Nashville Scene – Eli Motycka | Published: 1/16/2024

A bill by Metropolitan Councilperson Kathleen Murphy in 2020 updated Nashville’s lobbying law. Her efforts targeted the city’s scant reporting requirements, which had remained relatively untouched since the early 1990s. A former lobbyist, Murphy wanted to bring the anemic regulations closer to those of the state. “It was shocking how many people would lobby me and not acknowledge that they needed to be registered,” Murphy said.

Tennessee – The Next Fight in Tennessee’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

Tennessee Lookout – Adam Friedman | Published: 1/17/2024

The next fronts in Tennessee’s campaign finance landscape appear to be tracking the disclosures from education groups and regulation of newly formed conservative subgroups challenging incumbent Republicans. Bill Young, executive director of the Registry of Election Finance, said the unregistered political groups are a higher priority for his agency because the registry at least has disclosure around who runs the education related PACs in part due to a law passed in 2022.

Texas – Harris County Trustee Eric Dick Under Investigation for Alleged Illegal Activities after Maui Fires

MSN – Elizabeth Sander (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 1/18/2024

Hawaii officials are investigating Harris County Department of Education Trustee Eric Dick for illegally soliciting legal clients after the wildfires in Maui last year that killed at least 100 people. Dick, who is running for reelection on the education board, also owes $40,000 in campaign finance fines racked up during unsuccessful bids for other local offices. Dick said he will cooperate fully with Hawaiian authorities over what he characterized as a misunderstanding.

Virginia – Virginia Bill Would Bar Utilities from Charging Customers for Politics, Joining Other States

Energy and Policy Institute – Shelby Green | Published: 1/17/2024

A bill in Virginia would prohibit Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power from charging customers for many of their political activities. House Bill 792 would bar Virginia’s investor-owned electric utilities from charging their customers for their dues to trade associations, lobbying of government officials, advertising, and other efforts to influence public opinion, charitable giving, and litigation to challenge regulations or laws.

Virginia – Virginia House Panel Advances Perennial Measure Seeking to Ban Personal Use of Campaign Funds

WTVR – Sarah Rankin (Associated Press) | Published: 1/17/2024

Virginia elected officials would be prohibited from spending their campaign funds on personal expenses such as mortgages, vacations, or gym memberships under a bill a state House subcommittee advanced. Virginia is a national outlier for lacking such a law already. It is something good governance advocates have long sought but lawmakers at the General Assembly have defeated repeatedly for more than a decade, despite a bipartisan insistence that they want to find compromise on a reform.

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