January 26, 2024 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 26, 2024
DNyuz – Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson (New York Times) | Published: 1/18/2024
There is an old saying about the news business: If you want to make a small fortune, start with a large one. As the prospects for news publishers waned in the last decade, billionaires swooped in to buy some of the country’s most fabled brands. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013 for about $250 million, for example. But it increasingly appears that the billionaires are struggling just like nearly everyone else.
DNyuz – Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 1/23/2024
Two members of the powerful Durst real estate family in New York sued the centrist group No Labels, accusing it of pulling a “bait and switch” by seeking donations for a bipartisan governing group and then moving to fund a third-party presidential candidacy. The lawsuit seeks damages and reimbursements after the Dursts donated $145,000 years ago, when No Labels was founded on the promise of finding governing solutions.
MSN – Megan Mineiro (Roll Call) | Published: 1/19/2024
Bipartisan legislation to protect journalists from government surveillance passed the U.S. House recently. The Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act would block federal law enforcement agencies from subpoenaing journalists’ emails, phone records, recordings, and photographs to nail down the identity of confidential sources in their reporting. It includes tailored exceptions for terrorism or threats of imminent violence or harm.
MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 1/18/2024
Scrutiny of members’ trading has been building since the pandemic, when some lawmakers raised eyebrows by selling stocks soon before the market crashed. That prompted investigations from the Department of Justice, though no charges were filed. Reports from the media followed, highlighting a litany of questionable deals coming from the Capitol. Advocates say a ban on individual trades would curb worries about conflicts-of-interest and insider trading in Congress. But lack of buy-in from leadership has been a sticking point.
MSN – Ali Swenson (Associated Press) | Published: 1/16/2024
ChatGPT maker OpenAI outlined a plan to prevent its tools from being used to spread election misinformation as voters in more than 50 countries prepare to cast their ballots in national elections this year. It will ban people from using its technology to create chatbots that impersonate real candidates or governments, to misrepresent how voting works, or to discourage people from voting. It said until more research can be done on the persuasive power of its technology, it will not allow its users to build applications for the purposes of campaigning or lobbying.
MSN – Caitlin Reilly (Roll Call) | Published: 1/24/2024
A year of gridlock amid divided government and Republican infighting on Capitol Hill drove down spending by the biggest interest groups by about 13 percent in 2023 from the previous year. Tax policy, artificial intelligence, and China, along with perennial issues like health care and defense, drove interest and revenue on K Street last year, lobbyists said. Those trends are expected to hold this year.
ProPublica – Jennifer Berry Hawes | Published: 1/11/2022
The United States saw a record number of women elected to statehouses last year. Nationally, one-third of legislators are women, the most in history. In recent years, three states – Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado – achieved parity. But much of the Southeast lags far behind. Women constitute fewer than one in five state lawmakers across much of the region. This leaves large majorities of men controlling policy, including laws that most impact women, at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is sending more power to statehouses.
Yahoo News – Gary Fineout and Alez Isenstadt (Politico) | Published: 1/21/2024
Gov. Ron DeSantis ended his presidential campaign after he was unable to convince Republicans to set aside their allegiance to the man who helped his own political career. DeSantis’s run came to a halt following a dispiriting second-place finish in Iowa, a state where he and allies poured millions of dollars into an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort that featured the governor visiting all 99 counties. He spent week after week in the state instead of establishing a presence in other early voting states like New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Yahoo News – Rebecca Kern (Politico) | Published: 1/23/2024
Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting President Biden, is spending $1 million for its first-ever “creator” program, enlisting about 150 influencers to post on social media in the 2024 election cycle. The effort is part of a larger Democratic strategy to lure young voters in battleground states. Priorities USA plans to transition all its spending to digital communications in 2024 and sees the influencer campaign as key to reaching people who do not see typical campaign ads on television.
Yahoo News – Rebecca Beitsch and Zach Schonfeld (The Hill) | Published: 1/23/2024
A federal appeals court declined an effort by Donald Trump to have his challenge to a gag order in his election interference case heard by the full court, teeing up a likely U.S. Supreme Court battle over restrictions to his speech. A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals had largely upheld a lower court ruling restricting Trump’s speech in the case.
From the States and Municipalities
KJZZ – Wayne Schutsky | Published: 1/19/2024
Arizona Rep. Laurin Hendrix is pushing a bill that would bar construction companies that donate to local bond elections from then benefitting from the array of city projects funded by those bonds, a move that could drain hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the campaigns that push for passage of those bonds every election cycle. In the lead up to those elections, voters are often inundated with advertising and marketing efforts backed by local politicians and PACs that support passage of the bond questions. A lot of the money that pays for those efforts come from businesses or individuals with ties to the construction industry.
MSN – Maegan Vazquez (Washington Post) | Published: 1/24/2024
Arizona Republican Party Chairperson Jeff DeWit announced his resignation after a recording was made public that appeared to show him attempting to entice Kari Lake to sit out the 2024 election for the state’s U.S. Senate seat. The recording and DeWit’s resignation mark major challenges for a state GOP struggling to bounce back from years of tough election losses. What happens politically in Arizona, a swing state, could have broader consequences for both the presidency and the Senate majority in 2024.
MSN – St. John Barned-Smith (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 1/23/2024
Businessperson Florence Kong has already spent a year in prison for pleading guilty to bribing Mohammed Nuru with a Rolex watch and other gifts and lying to FBI agents about her relationship with the former head of San Francisco’s Public Works Department. Now she is on the hook to pay the city $750,000 to resolve civil penalties related to the matter, according to a settlement proposal.
MSN – Ari Plachta (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 1/17/2024
New legislation in California strengthens laws that prevent energy utilities from passing on the costs of lobbying to their customers. It comes in response to a media investigation that found the nation’s largest gas provider, Southern California Gas Company, booked at least $36 million to ratepayers since 2019 to oppose clean energy policies. The bill explicitly defines “political influence activity,” prevents the use of customer money for membership dues to trade groups, and requires utilities to disclose whether advertising campaigns are paid for by customers or shareholders.
MSN – Nick Gerda (LAist) | Published: 1/22/2024
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do directed an additional $6.2 million in taxpayer dollars to his 22-year-old daughter’s nonprofit group. Records show a total of $13.5 million in county funding that Do is now known to have played a major role awarding to Viet America Society since late 2020, all without publicly disclosing the relationship. The newly discovered grants were awarded by Do to his daughter Rhiannon Do’s nonprofit outside of public meetings. Details of these grants were also not included in public meeting agendas.
Orange County Register – Destiny Torres | Published: 1/23/2024
Orange County supervisors deadlocked on a proposal to require leaders and their top staffers to broaden the instances involving family connections that would require disclosure when approving contracts or spending money. Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento proposed the reform following reports that Supervisor Andrew Do voted for subcontracts with the Warner Wellness Center, a mental health program, without publicly disclosing that his daughter was part of the organization’s leadership.
MSN – Seth Klamann (Denver Post) | Published: 1/24/2024
State Rep. Mike Lynch, the embattled Colorado House Republican and congressional candidate whose 2022 drunken driving arrest was revealed recently, said he was stepping down as minority leader. Lynch’s position as the top Republican in the House has been on the brink of collapse for several days amid fallout from the news about his arrest.
MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 1/25/2024
A Connecticut mayor whose September primary election win was invalidated after ballot-fraud allegations won a do-over primary, months after his case became a flash point in conservative arguments about debunked theories of voter fraud. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, whose supporters allegedly stuffed absentee ballots on his behalf in September, won reelection over John Gomes in the primary held on January 23.
MSN – David Goodhue (Miami Herald) | Published: 1/24/2024
Lubby Navarro, the former Miami-Dade County School Board member accused of stealing more than $100,000 from taxpayers by way of her district-issued credit cards, is under investigation by a hospital chain that put her on unpaid leave after she was arrested. Yanet Obarrio Sanchez, a spokesperson for the South Broward Hospital District, where Navarro works as a registered lobbyist, said an internal investigation was launched “as a standard protocol” right after Navarro’s arrest.
Yahoo News – David Bauerlein (Florida Times Union) | Published: 1/25/2024
Any future no-bid selection of a firm to do lobbying or grant writing for Jacksonville will have to get city council approval, a reaction to Mayor Donna Deegan awarding a contract to a campaign supporter. The bill was filed after Deegan awarded a $300,000 no-bid contract to Langton Consulting to do federal lobbying, grant writing, and public policy development. The city did not invite proposals from any other firm.
Yahoo News – Jeff Amy (Associated Press) | Published: 1/24/2024
An attempt to state that Georgia’s State Election Board has the legal power to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s handling of elections blossomed into a constitutional showdown, with a lawyer for Raffensperger saying board members cannot legally oversee him. But the Senate Ethics Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 358. The proposal would remove Raffensperger from his nonvoting post on the board, allow the board to hire election investigators instead of solely relying on those working for Raffensperger, and clearly give the board power to investigate the secretary of state.
Yahoo News – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/24/2024
Recent mayoral runner-up Paul Vallas is being fined $10,500 for violating Chicago’s campaign finance law. In November, the Board of Ethics found probable cause that Vallas, who lost to Brandon Johnson in the April 2023 runoff election, violated a rule that limits campaign contributions from entities doing business with the city.
MSN – Austin Horn (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 1/25/2024
Seventeen senators and representatives in Kentucky are not seeking reelection this year. The numbers are growing relative to years past. Virtually all the elected officials in Frankfort will tell you that serving in the Kentucky General Assembly is an honor and a privilege. But is it a good job?
Yahoo News – Josh Wood and Eleanor McCrary (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 1/24/2024
Outside counsel hired to defend Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg against an ethics complaint signed a contract to receive up to $25,000 in city funds for their services but the actual cost passed on to taxpayers could be much higher. Jefferson County Attorney’s Office spokesperson Josh Abner said the office does not limit the amount it spends on legal representation, despite the ordinance.
MSN – Maegan Vazquez (Washington Post) | Published: 1/19/2024
The Louisiana Legislature approved a new congressional map that includes two majority-Black districts after being ordered to do so by a federal court that found the existing map illegally diminished Black voting power. Previously, Black voters in Louisiana had a majority in just one of the state’s six congressional districts, despite making up nearly a third of the statewide population.
Minnesota – You Might Be a Lobbyist Now
Minnesota Reformer – Madison McVan | Published: 1/19/2024
A change to the lobbying law in Minnesota is expected to mandate a bevy of new people register as lobbyists under the rule’s wide umbrella, said Jeff Sigurdson, executive director of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Now, anyone making or spending more than $3,000 to influence decisions by governmental bodies across the state must register. The new law applies to all the state’s political subdivisions. Previously, lobbying rules did not apply to local governments except those in the Twin Cities metro area.
New Hampshire – Trump Beats Haley Decisively in N.H., Closing in on Nomination
MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf, Colby Itkowitz, Sabrina Rodriguez, and Meryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 1/23/2024
Donald Trump marched closer to the Republican nomination for president by defeating Nikki Haley in New Hampshire’s primary. Trump’s victory dealt another blow to critics in his party who saw the vote as perhaps the last best chance to stop or slow him. Haley’s strength with independents exposed weaknesses for Trump in a potential rematch with President Biden, as moderate Republicans and right-leaning independents sent a message that the party’s internal divisions will not disappear quickly.
Yahoo News – Daniel Chacón (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 1/22/2024
Beth Gillia, head of the New Mexico Office of Family Representation and Advocacy, is facing an ethics complaint after using her government email to encourage employees to lobby legislators on the office’s behalf but without specifically instructing them to disclose their roles. Maralyn Beck, founder of the New Mexico Child First Network, said she will be filing a formal complaint with the State Ethics Commission and sharing her concerns with members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
Yahoo News – Robert Nott (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 1/24/2024
Public employees and elected officials could find themselves facing fines of up to $10,000 if they violate the state’s Governmental Conduct Act under a new bill that cleared its first committee. House Bill 8 would not only raise the ceiling for fines but provide more clarity regarding prohibited activities under the law.
Albany Times Union – Raga Justin | Published: 1/21/2024
Four members of the New York Assembly traveled to China in December. The group that funded the trip, the American Chinese Commerce Association, has been described as linked to an arm of the Chinese Communist Party known as the “united front work” department. According to U.S. security agencies, united front work seeks to influence American individuals and institutions, especially state-level lawmakers, through various overtures that include sponsored trips to meet Chinese officials.
Carolina Public Press – Mehr Shur | Published: 1/22/2024
Campaign finance investigations are confidential in North Carolina. While candidates are innocent until proven otherwise, the confidentiality provision passed by state lawmakers in 2018 can also keep voters from making informed decisions, according to ethics experts. The public is barred from finding out any details about a complaint or an ongoing State Board of Elections investigation and can only have access to information once an investigation has concluded and it proceeds to a hearing.
Yahoo News – Danielle Battaglia (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 1/24/2024
When a lawmaker leaves office, there is a good chance they will become a lobbyist. Sometimes, though, the “revolving door” swings in the other direction. Addison McDowell resigned as a lobbyist on December 13, the same day he announced he would run for Congress. McDowell, a former lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, highlighted his ties to the people he lobbied when he announced a January 30 fundraiser that is being hosted by some of the biggest names in North Carolina politics, including both lawmakers and lobbyists.
MSN – Anumita Kaur (Washington Post) | Published: 1/22/2024
Vanessa Joy is one of three transgender women whose candidacies for Ohio House seats have been challenged under a little-known state law that requires disclosure of previous legal names on election documents. While the law is not new, some advocates fear it is being used to hinder transgender candidates, and regardless of intent, it has ensnared several such contenders this election cycle in Ohio, raising concerns that trans candidates elsewhere might face similar hurdles when running for public office.
NonDoc – Tres Savage | Published: 1/22/2024
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s new director said its Guardian System, a database used for reporting and tracking campaign financial information and lobbyist registrations, will be extended through February 2025. The Guardian System had been scheduled to lose functionality after July 1 because a software and services firm decided to shelve the underlying software used to operate Oklahoma’s reporting system.
MSN – Carlos Fuentes (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 1/24/2024
Gov. Tina Kotek said campaign finance limits will not come up this legislative session, so Oregon voters will almost certainly decide the issue through a ballot measure in November. Voters will likely face two similar-looking measures, each of which would limit how much individuals and groups can donate to candidates. But one of the proposed measures, backed by labor unions, contains several loopholes that would allow unions to continue pouring millions of dollars into campaigns.
MSN – Edward Fitzpatrick (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/23/2024
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint filed against Gov. Dan McKee alleging he violated state ethics law after a lobbyist picked up a tab for lunch. The state Republican Party accused McKee of participating in a “pay-to-play political culture” by accepting a lunch with a lobbyist and executives from a Philadelphia firm, Scout Ltd., who were seeking $55 million to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory.
South Carolina – How Nikki Haley’s Lean Years Led Her into an Ethical Thicket
Seattle Times – Sharon LaFraniere and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 1/21/2024
Nikki Haley had been serving in the South Carolina Legislature for less than two years when she applied for a job as an accounting clerk at Wilbur Smith Associates, an engineering and design firm with state contracts. Because of her wide-ranging network. The firm put Haley on a retainer, asking her to scout out new business. That contract, and a subsequent, more lucrative one as a fundraiser for a hospital in her home county, allowed Haley to triple her income in three years. But they also led her into an ethical gray area that tarnished her first term as governor.
Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 1/24/2024
Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, advised former state Sen. Brian Kelsey he cannot use his PAC to pay attorneys as he tries to reverse a conviction for violating federal campaign finance law. Kelsey transferred $196,833 from his state campaign account to his Red State PAC last summer.
WTVF – Jennifer Kraus | Published: 1/24/2024
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of fines for campaign finance violations, totaling more than $2.5 million, have never been paid in Tennessee. Now the state has decided to no longer pursue nearly $1 million of those fines. Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said when he took the job in 2019, he discovered unpaid fines dated back to 1991. So last year, the Legislature agreed to update the law to allow the bureau to declare certain fines “uncollectible.”
Washington – The Failed Promise of Independent Election Mapmaking
MSN – Marilyn Thompson (ProPublica) | Published: 1/17/2024
In most states, lawmakers draw new districts every 10 years to accommodate changes in population and ethnic makeup. They are usually exercises of raw political power allowing lawmakers to, in essence, choose their voters instead of the other way around. As the nation grapples with ever-more-aggressive battles over access to voting, a review of what unfolded in Washington state shows that independent commissions, still reformers’ best hope for fixing this problem nationwide, have not always succeeded in taking this central democratic function out of politicians’ hands.
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