January 20, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 20, 2023
Billions at Stake as Online Fundraising Practices Turn Off Voters
MSN – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 1/17/2023
Llyod Cotler, the founder of Banter Messaging, advises friends and family to write a check if they want to make political contributions and avoid online giving, lest their emails and phone numbers end up on lists that recirculate through the campaign world for eternity. That advice reflects a recognition among digital campaign staff that text and email programs have gone from innovative to out of hand, to the point that it is harming the campaign ecosystem. The rate of return on individual appeals is falling compared to a few years ago, as candidates and outside groups find themselves targeting the same pool of donors.
FEC Dismisses GOP Complaint Over Gmail Spam Filter
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2023
The FEC dismissed a complaint brought by Republican campaign groups arguing that Gmail spam filters disproportionately flagged GOP fundraising emails in a way that amounted to a prohibited in-kind contribution to Democrats. Google’s spam technology ignited a controversy last year, as GOP groups blamed the technology for a dip in fundraising.
Free Speech or Out of Order? As Meetings Grow Wild, Officials Try to Tame Public Comment.
MSN – Karin Brulliard (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2023
Across a polarized nation, governing bodies are restricting – and sometimes even halting – public comment to counter what elected officials describe as an unprecedented level of invective, misinformation, and disorder from citizens when they step to the microphone. As contentious social issues roil once-sleepy town council and school board gatherings, some officials say allowing people to have their say is poisoning meetings and thwarting the ability to get business done.
Garland Appoints Special Counsel to Review Biden Documents
Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein, and Kelly Hooper (Politico) | Published: 1/12/2023
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, former U.S. attorney Robert Hur, to review the storage of sensitive documents discovered in spaces used by President Biden during the years preceding his return to the White House. Garland’s decision to place the probe under supervision of a special counsel ratchets up the legal stakes for Biden, who has stressed he takes the matter seriously while saying he was surprised to learn about the existence of the documents.
George Santos Pocketed $3,000 in Donations for Dying Dog, Veteran Alleges
MSN – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 1/18/2023
U.S. Rep. George Santos is accused of pocketing $3,000 from a GoFundMe page he set up for a homeless veteran to help pay for surgery for the man’s dying service dog. After he realized he could not afford the thousands of dollars needed for the surgery, a veterinarian tech recommended U.S. Navy veteran Richard Osthoff get in touch with a man named Anthony Devolder, who ran a pet charity that could help his dog. Anthony Devolder was one of the aliases used by Santos before he lied about much of his biography to win a seat in the House.
GOP Congressman Linked to Jan. 6 Probe Assigned to House Committee Investigating Biden
MSN – Amy Wang and Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 1/18/2023
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump attracted the attention of the Department of Justice, which seized Perry’s cellphone as part of its investigation into the events leading up to the insurrection, when a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol seeking to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. That did not prevent Perry from being named to the powerful House Oversight and Accountability Committee, along with several other of Trump’s most controversial allies.
How Restaurant Workers Help Pay for Lobbying to Keep Their Wages Low
Yahoo News – David Fahrenthold and Talmon Joseph Smith (New York Times) | Published: 1/17/2023
Before starting a new job, many cooks, waiters, and bartenders pay $15 to a company called ServSafe for an online class in food safety. ServSafe doubles as a fundraising arm of the National Restaurant Association, the largest lobbying group for the food-service industry. The association has spent decades fighting increases to the minimum wage at the federal and state levels, as well as the subminimum wage paid to tipped workers. For years, the restaurant association and its affiliates have used ServSafe to create an arrangement with few parallels in Washington, where labor unwittingly helps to pay for management’s lobbying.
Statehouse Democrats Embrace an Unfamiliar Reality: Full power
Yahoo News – Mitch Smith (New York Times) | Published: 1/18/2023
Democrats will have control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 17 states. That is still fewer than the 22 states where Republicans have full control, but it is a major comeback from a lost decade for state-level Democrats, who as recently as 2017 had sole control at only six Capitols. Slightly more people will now live in states with full Democratic control than in those with full Republican control. What remains untested, though, is whether Democrats can or will wield their newfound authority with the same unflinching force that Republicans exerted over the last decade.
Supreme Court Poised to Reconsider Key Tenets of Online Speech
DNyuz – David McCabe (New York Times) | Published: 1/19/2023
For years, giant social networks like Facebook and Twitter have operated under two crucial tenets. The first is that the platforms have the power to decide what content to keep online and what to take down, free from government oversight. The second is that the websites cannot be held legally responsible for most of what their users post online, shielding the companies from lawsuits over libelous speech, extremist content, and real-world harm linked to their platforms. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to reconsider those rules.
The Speaker Vote Underscored How Money Is So Central to Politics Today
MSN – Tal Kopan (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/16/2023
Money is a regular part of leadership battles in Congress, where fundraising prowess is practically a job requirement, and there have long been debates about whether dedicated congressional campaign committees should spend to protect incumbent lawmakers from upstart challengers. But the deals cut during the vote for House speaker involved entities that legally are supposed to be separate from specific candidates and parties, specifically the Congressional Leadership Fund and a PAC related to Club for Growth.
Two States Still Observe King-Lee Day, Honoring Robert E. Lee with MLK
MSN – Meena Venkataramanan (Washington Post) | Published: 1/16/2023
As the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16, two states observed a different holiday: King-Lee Day, which commemorates both King and Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Mississippi and Alabama mark King-Lee Day as a state holiday. Texas still celebrates Confederate Heroes Day on Lee’s actual birthday, January 19, and its state employees can take a paid holiday on both days. For many Black Southerners, these holidays are part of a broader effort to glorify the Confederacy, 158 years after its secessionist war effort went down in defeat.
What the Jan. 6 Probe Found Out About Social Media, But Didn’t Report
MSN – Cat Zakrzewski, Cristiano Lima, and Drew Harwell (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2023
The January 6 committee spent months gathering new details on how social media companies failed to address the online extremism and calls for violence that preceded the Capitol riot. The evidence they collected was written up in a 122-page memo that was circulated among the panel. But committee leaders declined to delve into those topics in detail in their final report, reluctant to dig into the roots of domestic extremism taking hold in the Republican Party beyond Donald Trump and concerned about the risks of a public battle with powerful tech companies.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Where Did Arizona Gov. Hobbs’ Inaugural Funds Come From?
KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 1/15/2023
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs has been under pressure to release information on the sources of funds for the inaugural event since it was reported she was not fully disclosing the names of all the individuals or corporations paying for the celebration. She subsequently put a full list of the names in a booklet that was given out at the event and listed them on an inaugural web site. Now there is a report from the administration giving a full accounting of how much each has donated.
Arkansas – Former Legislator Wilkins Sentenced to a Year and a Day on Bribery Plea
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Dale Ellis | Published: 1/18/2023
Former Arkansas Sen. Henry Wilkins was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay $123,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to bribery. Wilkins was involved in a scheme that brought down a number of state legislators as well as executives of a nonprofit that provided Medicaid-funded counseling services to troubled youth and adults in Arkansas.
California – Deal or No Deal? A Corruption Case Spins Out of Control with a Judge’s Last-Minute Change of Heart
Los Angeles Times – Richard Winton | Published: 1/13/2023
For more than a decade, tax consultant Ramin Salari fought charges that he had bribed former Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez in a “pay-for-play” conspiracy. Then Salari reversed course, agreeing to a deal with prosecutors that called for him to plead guilty to a single charge and pay more than $9 million in penalties in exchange for a sentence that spared him from time in prison. But things did not go according to plan. In weighing whether to approve the deal, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus refused, then relented, then refused again – throwing the long-running case against Salari, Noguez, and others into chaos.
California – Ex-San Jose Mayor’s Public Records Reforms Spark Alarm
San Jose Spotlight – Tran Nguyen | Published: 1/15/2023
In one of his last actions in office, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo wants to reform how the city complies with transparency laws, a move experts say could limit the public’s access to the inner workings of City Hall. Liccardo, whose legacy as a council member and mayor is plagued by transparency-related lawsuits and violations, is calling for revising the city’s process for responding to public records requests, citing the need to cut down costs, reduce delays, and avoid errors. He also wants to explore changes to the city’s document retention policies.
Connecticut – They Make Money Videotaping Officials. Why and How Some CT Leaders Want to Stop Them
Middletown Press – Sandra Diamond Fox | Published: 1/16/2023
Public officials in Connecticut are considering ways to react legislatively to a growing group of people who consider themselves First Amendment rights activists and make money by creating YouTube videos of themselves walking into Town Halls and other public offices unannounced and taping them. While the YouTubers say they are defending the Constitutional rights of all and performing a service that helps the community, many officials and employees say the activists’ actions disrupt their workplaces. In local incidents, police have been called and sometimes officials or the YouTubers get arrested or into other legal trouble.
Florida – DeSantis Inauguration Sponsored by Companies He Loves to Bash
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf (Washington Post) | Published: 1/18/2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has built his national profile, and possibly a future presidential run, on challenging major companies on controversial social issues. But some of those same companies and their lobbyists bankrolled his recent inaugural festivities. The donations underscore how DeSantis maintains corporate ties even while he works to burnish his image as taking on “woke” corporations.
Hawaii – Honolulu Permitting Inspector OK’d His Own Company’s Projects
Honolulu Civil Beat – Christina Jedra | Published: 1/18/2023
An inspector in the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) has been running an electrical company on the side for over a decade and has inspected and approved more than a dozen of his own projects, public records show. Arthur Suverkropp, a supervising electrical inspector, is also the head of K&A Electric. The company has applied for some 350 permits from DPP since 2007. Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, DPP’s director designate, said the department was unaware of the situation until The Honolulu Civil Beat contacted the office for comment.
Illinois – ACLU of Illinois Says Lightfoot Campaign Emails to Chicago Teachers May Violate Federal Law; CPS Inspector General Opens Investigation
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 1/12/2023
The decision by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reelection campaign to send emails to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers asking them to encourage their students to earn class credit by volunteering to help Lightfoot win a second term as mayor may have violated federal law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The emails have also prompted responses from the Chicago Board of Ethics and the city’s inspector general and the CPS inspector general.
Maryland – Former Delegate Pleads Guilty to Misconduct in Office for Misusing State Funds to Pay for Middle River Cottage
Maryland Matters – William Zorzi | Published: 1/13/2023
Former Maryland Del. Richard Impallaria pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in office and agreed to pay the state $44,100 in restitution. Prosecutors said Impallaria paid his landlord with rental payments from the General Assembly for a “district office” that was outside his district and next door to a cottage he rented for personal use from the same landlord. They alleged Impallaria paid twice the rent on the “office” cottage, charging the full cost to the Legislature while rent on his personal cottage was simultaneously lowered to $0.
Maryland – Judges Can Attend Inauguration Gala for Md. Governor, Ethics Panel Rules
Maryland Daily Record – Madeleine O’Neill | Published: 1/12/2023
Judges can attend the swearing-in and inaugural festivities for Governor-elect Wes Moore as long as they follow certain guidelines, the Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee said in an opinion. Tickets to the gala can cost between $125 and $1,000, according to the event’s website. The ethics panel concluded it was permissible for judges to attend the event because tickets were available to all members of the public.
Massachusetts – Mass. GOP Chairman May Have Violated Campaign Finance Law, Party Treasurer Alleges, in Escalating Woes for State Republican Party
MSN – Emma Platoff (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/12/2023
Chairperson Jim Lyons seems to have coordinated with an independent PAC in apparent violation of campaign finance law, the state party treasurer told regulators. Treasurer Pat Crowley believes Lyons improperly coordinated with an outside spending group, the Mass Freedom Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee, in engaging an opposition research firm to dig up dirt on Gov. Maura Healey during last year’s race. The prospect of possible violations is the latest in a string of legal and financial challenges for the struggling state GOP.
Missouri – Missouri State Lawmakers Revise Their Dress Code for Women
Yahoo News – Eduardo Medina (New York Times) | Published: 1/16/2023
The Missouri House revised its dress code for female legislators and staff members, requiring them to wear a jacket, such as a blazer or a cardigan, and setting off a debate about policing the fashion choices of women. The updated code drew criticism from some Democratic lawmakers, who described the Republican-backed effort as sexist and pointless. Supporters said it was a small tweak that would help ensure professionalism inside the chamber.
Nebraska – Veteran Head of Political Accountability Commission to Retire in August
Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 1/12/2023
Frank Daley Jr., who has been executive director of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Commission since 1999, announced he will retire in August. Daley called his job “fascinating” but said he will be 69 by August and felt it was time to “look at something else.” Daley served as legal counsel for the commission prior to taking the executive director’s job. He is the fifth person to hold the job.
New Mexico – Election-Fraud Conspiracies Behind Plot to Shoot at New Mexico Democrats’ Homes, Police Say
MSN – Amy Gardner and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2023
The arrest of a defeated candidate for the New Mexico Legislature on charges he orchestrated a plot to shoot up the homes of four Democratic officials in Albuquerque prompted widespread condemnation as well as accusations that the stolen-election rhetoric among supporters of former President Trump continues to incite violence. Albuquerque police said Solomon Peña, who lost a state House race in November by a nearly two-to-one margin but complained his defeat was rigged, hatched the plot. Police accused him of conspiring with four accomplices to drive past the officials’ homes and fire at them.
New York – NYC Council Bills Could Slow ‘Revolving Door’ Between City Hall and Lobbying Agencies
Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 1/18/2023
A new legislative package would make it harder for high-ranking New York City officials to cash in on lucrative lobbying jobs as soon as they leave public service. The two bills in the city council would increase the length of time and scope of lobbying restrictions that apply to certain former municipal employees and local elected officials. Currently, top former city officials like deputy mayors and commissioners face a two-year ban from lobbying and appearing before their former agency or branch of government.
Ohio – How Dark Money Groups Led Ohio to Redefine Gas as ‘Green Energy’
MSN – Maxine Joselow (Washington Post) | Published: 1/17/2023
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed legislation that legally redefines natural gas as “green energy.” Natural gas is a fossil fuel and a significant cause of climate change. The Empowerment Alliance, a “dark money” group with ties to the gas industry helped Ohio lawmakers push the narrative that that the fuel is clean, documents show. The American Legislative Exchange Council, another anonymously funded group whose donors remain a mystery, assisted in the effort. The legislation took an unusual path through the Ohio Senate, where it was an amendment to a bill focused on poultry purchases.
Ohio – How Sports Betting, Nuclear Bailouts and Undercover FBI Agents Collided in Ohio’s Historic Public Corruption Scandal
MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/15/2023
In 2019, two FBI agents and an informant sat for a meeting in the office of a lobbyist who they suspected was a crook. The gathering was organized to discuss influencing sports betting legislation in Ohio. But the conversation turned to Larry Householder, at the time the speaker of the state House. Householder will face trial soon in a public corruption case prosecutors have described as the largest in state history. In a case bogged down in the finer points of campaign finance and utility law, the FBI agents’ cloak and dagger approach yielded statements the government is using as express proof of a bribery scheme.
Ohio – Military Families Frustrated as States Change Mail Ballot Timelines
Yahoo News – Julie Carr Smyth and Gary Fields (Associated Press) | Published: 1/15/2023
Ohio’s new election law significantly shortens the window for mailed ballots to be receive, despite no evidence the extended timeline has led to fraud or any other problems, and that change is angering active-duty members of the military and their families because of its potential to disenfranchise them. Republican lawmakers said during debate on the bill that even if Donald Trump’s claims that late-arriving ballots played a nefarious role in his reelection loss are not true, the skepticism they have caused among conservatives about the accuracy of election results justifies imposing new limits.
Ohio – Ohio House Republicans Push Ethics Reform Bill Ahead of Householder Corruption Trial
MSN – Andrew Tobias (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/18/2023
A group of Ohio House Republicans are calling for changing state ethics law to require greater disclosure from lobbyists and utility board nominees while restricting elected officials from holding corporate board positions, among other changes. The announcement comes days before former Speaker Larry Householder is scheduled to begin his trial on federal corruption charges. Bill supporters said the timing was somewhat coincidental.
Oklahoma – Campaign Watchdog Sees Evidence of Abuses but Lacks the Funding to Prosecute
Yahoo News – Ben Felder (Oklahoman) | Published: 1/13/2023
The Legislature has not given the Oklahoma Ethics Commission the money needed to prosecute cases of campaign finance law violations, said Ashley Kemp, the commission’s executive director. The ethics agency can seek civil penalties in District Court but taking a case to trial can be costly. Just one trial case can cost one-third of the agency’s budget, Kemp said.
Oregon – Shemia Fagan and Her Elections Director Disagreed About Disclosing Campaign Finance Violations. Here They Are.
Willamette Week – Nigel Jaquiss | Published: 1/18/2023
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and the elections director she forced out last year, Deborah Scroggin, disagreed whether the agency should publish a website disclosing campaign finance reporting violations. The Elections Division had worked on such a website for a year only to have Fagan’s management team repeatedly reject Scroggin’s pleas to let it go live. Willamette Week has published the cases with the 12 largest fines, for more than $2,000 each.
Pennsylvania – Driven by Election Deniers, This County Recounted 2020 Votes Last Week
Yahoo News – Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 1/15/2023
Under pressure from conspiracy theorists and election deniers, 28 employees of Lycoming County on January 10, 2023, counted – by hand – nearly 60,000 ballots from the 2020 presidential contest. It took three days and an estimated 560 work hours. The results of the recount – like earlier ones of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona – revealed no evidence of fraud. The numbers reported more than two years ago were nearly identical to the numbers reported last week. Forrest Lehman, the county director of elections, oversaw the recount but opposed it as a needless bonfire of time, money, and common sense.
Utah – The Office of the Lt. Gov. of Utah Is Considering Punishing Gene Davis for Using Campaign Funds to Fight Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
Local Today – Emily Anderson Stern (Salt Lake City Tribune) | Published: 1/14/2023
Former Utah Sen. Gene Davis used more than $10,000 of his campaign funds to pay legal fees to challenge allegations of sexual misconduct, a campaign finance report shows. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office said she was considering penalties for the spending. Davis’s campaign paid attorney Benjamin Grindstaff $10,837.50 in November. Grindstaff represented Davis when he was accused by a former intern and campaign worker of repeatedly touching her and behaving in a way that made her uncomfortable. State law has strict rules about how a candidate can use campaign funds.
Vermont – Campaign Finance Watchdog Files FEC Complaint Against Liam Madden for Funneling Donations Through Family
VTDigger.org – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 1/18/2023
Nearly three months after failed congressional candidate Liam Madden described on the radio a self-funded scheme to inflate his campaign fundraising numbers, a campaign finance watchdog group has filed a complaint against Madden with the FEC. Asked by the show’s hosts to respond to critics’ scrutiny of Madden’s campaign finance filings, particularly a $5,300 donation reportedly made by his toddler son, Madden said he “drained” his wife’s business’s bank account, distributed roughly $25,000 among family members, then directed his family members to donate the money to his campaign.
Virginia – ‘A Missed Opportunity’: Virginia subcommittee on campaign finance reform has little to show after 2-year study
OpenSecrets – Jimmy Cloutier | Published: 1/13/2023
A Virginia legislative panel formed to study campaign finance reform failed to deliver its final report in yet another setback for advocates who say the cost of elections in the commonwealth is untenable. Virginia’s rules governing election spending are among the least restrictive in the country, with virtually no limits on the amount of money individuals and corporations can donate to state politicians. The General Assembly created the subcommittee almost two years ago to review potential reforms, including limits on donations and new disclosure requirements.
Virginia – Virginia Senate Panel Blocks Campaign Finance Reform Bills, Again
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 1/17/2023
Shortly after a Virginia Senate committee defeated legislation creating an across-the-board $20,000 cap on donations to candidates for the General Assembly and executive branch offices, the same panel voted down another bill that would have only banned political contributions from publicly regulated utilities like Dominion Energy. Senators warned of unintended consequences if Virginia were to move away from its unlimited, transparency-based campaign finance system to setting caps on how much money candidates can accept from one source.
Washington – Lawsuit Filed Over State Lawmakers’ Use of ‘Privilege’ to Deny Access to Public Records
The Olympian – Shauna Sowersby | Published: 1/11/2023
A new lawsuit challenges the use of “legislative privilege” by Washington lawmakers to withhold public records. Public records from multiple sources also showed lawmakers have invoked the privilege more frequently within the last year. In 2019, the state Supreme Court voted ruled in favor of The Associated Press’s lawsuit to reject “lawmakers’ assertion that they are not required to turn over daily schedules, emails, text messages, and other materials related to their work.”
Wyoming – Remote Participation Shut Out of Two Legislative Committees
WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 1/16/2023
Two legislative committee chairpersons closed the door on remote public testimony, limiting who can participate in the lawmaking process. Committee hearings are the only public opportunity to testify or otherwise formally weigh in on proposed legislation. Stakeholders can also call or email lawmakers directly, but such correspondence is not public record. The Legislature has benefited from additional public testimony made possible by Zoom in recent years, according to Sen. Chris Rothfuss. At the same time, he does not think the Legislature has the policy quite right.
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