News You Can Use Digest - January 27, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

January 26, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 27, 2023


2-Year Sentence for Hawaii Woman’s Trump Lobbying Scheme
MSN – Associated Press | Published: 1/18/2023

An American consultant was sentenced to two years in prison for an illicit lobbying effort to get the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the multibillion-dollar looting of a Malaysian state investment fund, and to arrange for the return of a Chinese dissident living in the U.S. Nickie Mali Lum Davis pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of aiding and abetting in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Classified Documents Found at Pence’s Indiana Home
MSN – Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, and Evan Perez (CNN) | Published: 1/24/2023

A lawyer for former Vice President Mike Pence discovered about a dozen documents marked as classified at Pence’s Indiana home and he has turned those classified records over to the FBI. The Justice Department’s National Security Division and the FBI have launched a review of the documents and how they ended up in Pence’s house. Pence asked his lawyer to conduct the search of his home out of an abundance of caution, and the attorney began going through four boxes, finding a small number of documents with classified markings.

Cyberthieves Jacked a U.S. Senator’s Campaign and Stole Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars
MSN – Dave Levinthal (Raw Story) | Published: 1/23/2023

Cyberthieves stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the campaign committee of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and the FBI is investigating. It is the latest in a series of thefts from the political accounts of prominent politicians, party committees, trade associations, and advocacy groups representing all points across the political spectrum. Together, the money lost early in this decade has soared into the millions of dollars.

Dark Money Group Linked to Leonard Leo Is Dissolved
MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 1/20/2023

A “dark money” group tied to conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo was dissolved three days after Politico inquired about whether it helped to facilitate the multi-million-dollar sale of former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway’s polling company. The BH Fund, which was formed in 2016 with an anonymous $24 million donation, has been a nerve center for distributing millions of dollars around Leo’s network of groups bolstering former President Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Four Oath Keepers Convicted of Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy
Associated Press News – Michael Kunzelman and Alanna Durkin Richer | Published: 1/24/2023

Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the attack on the Capitol in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of plotting to forcibly keep Donald Trump in power. It is another major victory for the Justice Department, which is also trying to secure sedition convictions against the former leader of the Proud Boys and four associates. It was one of the most serious cases brought so far in the sweeping January 6 investigation which continues to grow two years after the insurrection.

Judge Sanctions Trump, Habba Nearly $1 Million for ‘Completely Frivolous’ Clinton Suit
MSN – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 1/20/2023

A federal judge ordered nearly $1 million in sanctions against Donald Trump and his attorney Alina Habba, calling the former president a “mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process.” U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks said Trump’s sprawling lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and dozens of former Justice Department and FBI officials was an almost cartoonish abuse of the legal system. Trump continues to face peril in advancing criminal probes and civil lawsuits related to his effort to overturn the 2020 election and his retention of sensitive national security records at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office.

Justice Dept. Search of Biden Home in Wilmington Turns Up More Documents
MSN – Matt Viser and Tyler Pager (Washington Post) | Published: 1/21/2023

The Justice Department completed an extensive search of President Biden’s home in Wilmington and turned up additional classified documents, some of which date to his time in the U.S. Senate and others from his eight-year tenure as vice president. After being given full access to Biden’s home, the Justice Department took possession of six items. The department also took some of Biden’s handwritten notes from his vice-presidential years to further review them.

Lobbying Gold Rush May Persist Despite Divided Congress
Yahoo News – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 1/23/2023

K Street lobbying firms expect a historic earnings boom to continue, even as a divided Congress threatens to slow legislation to a crawl. The top firms reported massive earnings for the final three months of 2022, capping off a record-breaking year for K Street. The strong fourth-quarter performance, which defied election season norms, boosted hopes that corporations will continue to spend big on lobbyists in the new year.

Meta to Reinstate Donald Trump’s Facebook Account
MSN – Rebecca Kern (Politico) | Published: 1/25/2023

Meta will lift the ban on Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts after a suspension that lasted more than two years. The decision restores the former president’s access to a platform that he used to powerful effect as a campaigner and could potentially boost his faltering 2024 fundraising. But a Trump return could also lead to more election misinformation on the platform, Democrats warn, since Facebook has a policy of not fact-checking candidates. The company said Trump will have to abide by new rules if he decides to post again, but ultimately decided to reinstate him because the public deserves to hear from politicians.

Mystery Deepens Around George Santos’s $700,000 in Campaign Loans
Seattle Times – Michael Gold and Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 1/24/2023

An updated campaign finance report raised new questions about the source of six-figure loans that U.S. Rep. George Santos gave his congressional campaign. In previous filings, the Santos campaign has reported he lent his own campaign more than $700,000. But in an update to a report originally filed in April 2022, the campaign unmarked a box that had originally indicated $500,000 of those loans came from Santos’s own personal funds. Experts said they were struggling to interpret the change, especially because in filings from later in 2022, the box marking “personal funds of the candidate” remains checked.

Students Want New Books. Thanks to Restrictions, Librarians Can’t Buy Them.
MSN – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 1/22/2023

States and school districts nationwide have begun to constrain what librarians can order. At least 10 states have passed laws giving parents more power over which books appear in libraries or limiting students’ access to books. At the same time, school districts are passing policies that bar certain kinds of texts – most often, those focused on issues of gender and sexuality – while increasing administrative or parental oversight of acquisitions. School librarians said in the past they had wide latitude to choose the books they thought would best supplement the curriculum and stimulate students’ literary appetites.

Supreme Court Asks Biden Administration to Weigh in on Social Media Case
MSN – Robert Barnes and Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 1/23/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Biden administration to weigh in on whether states may bar giant social media platforms from removing certain types of political speech, a major First Amendment case that could determine how the constitutional right to free speech applies to the marketplace of ideas on the internet. At stake is the constitutionality of state laws in Florida and Texas that would restrict platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from blocking or limiting political speech, and require transparency in how such decisions are made.

Supreme Court Says It Can’t Determine Who Leaked Draft Dobbs Opinion
MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 1/19/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court said it cannot identify the person who in the spring leaked a draft of the opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, an inconclusive likely finale to what the justices declared “one of the worst breaches of trust” in the court’s history. Although the report did not indicate it was against the law to disclose the draft opinion, those interviewed were told they could be fired if they refused to answer or did not truthfully respond to questions. The report did not indicate clearly whether the justices themselves or others close to them were questioned.

US: Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch
MSN – Michael Sisak and Eric Tucker (Associated Press) | Published: 1/23/2023

A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who investigated Russian oligarchs was indicted on charges he secretly worked for one, in violation of U.S. sanctions. The official was also charged in a separate indictment with taking cash from a former foreign security officer. Charles McGonigal, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York from 2016 to 2018, is accused in an indictment of working with a former Soviet diplomat-turned-Russian interpreter on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire they purportedly referred to in code as “the big guy” and “the client.”

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Voter Fraud Unit in Arizona Will Shift Focus to Voter Rights
Las Vegas Sun – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 1/23/2023

Arizona’s new Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, is redirecting an election integrity unit her Republican predecessor created, focusing its work instead on addressing voter suppression. The unit’s former leader, Jennifer Wright, meanwhile, has joined a legal effort to invalidate Mayes’s narrow victory in the November election. Former Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year, created the office to investigate voter fraud complaints in Arizona, a battleground state.

California Ex-State Democratic Party Leader Who Helped FBI in Anaheim Probe Agrees to Plead Guilty to Wire Fraud
MSN – Hannah Fry and Gabriel San Román (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/19/2023

A California Democratic Party leader who was central to a wide-reaching corruption investigation in Anaheim involving the proposed sale of Angel Stadium agreed to plead guilty to attempted wire fraud. Melahat Rafiei was a well-known political consultant in Orange County. In late 2019, according to a plea agreement, Rafiei told a commercial cannabis company owner she would work to pass a marijuana related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit the business in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000.

California Former L.A. Councilmember Jose Huizar Pleads Guilty in Corruption Case
MSN – Michael Finnegan and David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 1/19/2023

Former Los Angeles City Councilperson José Huizar pleaded guilty to two federal charges stemming from a bribery and money laundering scheme in which he took more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips, and escorts in exchange for his support of a planned hotel project. Prosecutors said they will request a 13-year prison term. Huizar will also pay restitution of about $1.85 million. The plea deal came after developers were convicted of bribing Huizar and an array of other players at City Hall pleaded guilty to felonies.

Florida Florida Blocks High School African American Studies Class
Yahoo News – Anthony Izaguirre (Associated Press) | Published: 1/19/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration blocked a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools, saying it violates state law and is historically inaccurate. DeSantis has opposed what he calls liberal ideologies in schools, including lessons around critical race theory, which examines systemic racism and has become a frequent target of conservatives.

Florida ‘This Is Not Over.’ Judge Says DeSantis Was Wrong, but Declines to Restore Andrew Warren to Office
MSN – Dan Sullivan and Sue Carlton (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 1/20/2023

Despite concluding Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment last year when he suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a federal judge ruled he did not have the power to restore Warren to office. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle found DeSantis suspended Warren based on the allegation that the state attorney had blanket policies not to prosecute certain kinds of cases. Yet Hinkle concluded the U.S. Constitution prohibits a federal court from awarding the kind of relief Warren seeks – namely, to be restored to office.

Georgia Fulton County DA Says Charging Decisions in Trump Investigation Are ‘Imminent’
MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 1/24/2023

An Atlanta-area district attorney investigating whether former President Trump and his allies broke the law when they sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia said charging “decisions are imminent.” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told a judge that a special grand jury report into the matter should remain sealed to protect the ongoing criminal investigation and the rights of potential “defendants” in the case. Willis’s comments came during a hearing on whether to release the final report of the special grand jury, which was formally dissolved after a roughly eight-month investigation into alleged 2020 election interference.

Idaho Idaho Legislature Introduces Bill Creating Waiting Period Before Officials Can Become Lobbyists
Idaho Capital Sun – Clark Corbin | Published: 1/23/2023

Legislation in Idaho would prohibit lawmakers, executive branch employees, and other elected officials from registering as a lobbyist or lobbying during the next regular legislative session and for at least six months after leaving office. Although it had bipartisan support and similar “revolving door” provisions are common in most other states, the House State Affairs Committee had a tricky time with the bill.

Illinois Ethics Board Sends Lightfoot Campaign Complaints to Watchdogs
MSN – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/23/2023

The Chicago Board of Ethics decided more thorough investigations needed to be done before rendering judgment about whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign violated city ethics rules when it solicited public school teachers to encourage students to help her reelection efforts. The board tasked the inspectors general for both City Hall and Chicago Public Schools to conduct investigations into the matter.

Illinois Former Cook County Board of Review Employee Sentenced to 3 Months in Prison for Taking Bribes to Fix Tax Appeals
MSN – Adriana Pérez (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/24/2023

A former employee of the Cook County Board of Review was sentenced to three months in prison and at least one year of probation for taking bribes to fix tax appeals on more than two dozen properties. Unbeknownst to Barjaktarevic, an individual named in documents as “CS-1” was a confidential source operating at the direction of the FBI. Barjaktarevic told the source he would accept $2,000 to lower assessments for each commercial property, while he would charge $1,000 for each residential property, for a total cost of $43,000.

Illinois Swept Into Office by Promises of Reform, Lightfoot Faces New Scrutiny on Ethics Record
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 1/18/2023

Lori Lightfoot won every ward in her first bid for mayor after her campaign was fueled by promises that she alone could end the notion that placing Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is an oxymoron at best, or a joke at worst. Lightfoot’s campaign for a second term has been weighed down by a growing amount of evidence that she has at times governed more like an old-school machine politician than a reformer. Lightfoot has said her administration has made strides in pushing back against corruption.

Maine House Speaker Calls on Waldoboro Lawmaker to Resign After He Was Indicted for Signature Fraud
Maine Public Radio – Steve Mistler | Published: 1/24/2023

A newly elected member of the Maine House of Representatives was indicted for allegedly forging multiple signatures to obtain public funds through the state’s public campaign finance system. Rep. Clinton Collamore is accused of forging the signatures of more than two dozen people to receive financing for his successful legislative campaign through the Clean Election Act. According to the state’s ethics commission, he received more than $14,000 through the program.

Massachusetts E-mails Appear to Show Coordination Between Mass. GOP Chairman and Outside PAC, in Alleged Violation of State Law
MSN – Emma Platoff (Boston Globe) | Published: 1/18/2023

Embattled Massachusetts Republican Party Chairperson Jim Lyons appears to have communicated directly with an outside PAC about digging up dirt on Gov. Maura Healey during last year’s election, according to emails. The emails follow accusations levied by the state GOP’s treasurer, who told party officials he believed the coordination between Lyons and the PAC violated state campaign finance laws and he would report the matter to state regulators. The treasurer, Pat Crowley, has previously clashed with Lyons over party finances.

Michigan Who Funded Michigan Campaigns? For Nearly Every Legislator, It Wasn’t the Folks They Ran to Represent.
MLive – Simon Schuster | Published: 1/24/2023

When new district maps were finalized at the end of 2021, many incumbent state legislators and first-time candidates pivoted to appealing for votes from new communities they had not reached out to in the past. But did lawmakers rely on the people they hoped to represent to fund their campaigns? According to a new analysis of campaign finance records, the answer is largely no. PACs remain the dominant force in legislative fundraising, and their financial footprint has grown significantly over the last decade. PACs can donate 10 times as much as individuals, and many incumbent legislators create PACs as a means of wielding influence with their colleagues.

Minnesota Why Some Want to Make Public Spending on Political Campaigns in Minnesota Less Like Menards Rebates
MSN – Peter Callaghan (MinnPost) | Published: 1/24/2023

In Minnesota, individuals can donate to politicians using tax dollars, but only a small percentage of residents use the system. The process is awkward. People contribute $50 and get a receipt. Then they must fill out a form, mail it in or file on a government website, and wait for two state agencies to verify their eligibility. Then they get a reimbursement check. Supporters of a new bill want to simplify the system and increase usage with “Democracy Dollars,” a program pioneered in Seattle.

Nebraska Watchdog Group Says State Capitol Bible Study Leader Should Register as Lobbyist
Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 1/20/2023

Arin Hess, the chaplain and president of Capitol Studies, holds Bible study sessions for Nebraska lawmakers and staff members during the legislative session. While Hess says he is merely maintaining a four-decade-long tradition of “serving civil servants with Scripture” at the Capitol, some watchdogs, along with at least one state senator, contend what happens at those studies amounts to lobbying and Hess should register as one. Common Cause Nebraska said his teachings have led to the introduction of bills and his work fits the definition of a lobbyist.

Nevada Nevada’s New Governor Vilified Lobbyist’s Influence in COVID Lab Scandal, Then Asked Him to Help with Budget
ProPublica – Anjeanette Damon (Nevada Independent) | Published: 1/25/2023

During his contentious campaign to become Nevada governor, Joe Lombardo accused the Democratic incumbent of catering to the family of a donor and their lobbyist who helped an error-prone COVID-19 testing lab get licensed in the state. Shortly after he won the race, Lombardo turned to that same lobbyist for help in building the state budget, giving him access to confidential documents and putting him in a position that allowed him to advocate for state funding sought by his clients. Lobbyist Mike Willden’s name does not appear on the list of people Lombardo appointed to his transition team.

New Mexico Proposal Aims to Keep Legislators from Drinking While on the Job
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 1/23/2023

For some New Mexico legislators, drinking is part of the Capitol culture. At least a few have been known to keep alcohol in their offices. And it is common for lawmakers to head to dinner before a late-night floor session at restaurants serving alcohol. But Sen. Harold Pope Jr. said he has seen enough. The first-term legislator is proposing a Senate rule that would prohibit members of the chamber from drinking alcohol before committee meetings or floor sessions. They could not drink during the meetings either.

New York City Council Passes New Disclosure Requirements for Spending to Influence Votes on Ballot Referendums
Gotham Gazette – Ethan Geringer-Sameth | Published: 1/18/2023

The New York City Council passed legislation that requires entities spending to influence voters in local referendums to disclose their funders. The bill would close a loophole in the city’s campaign finance law that watchdogs have decried for years. If signed by the mayor, independent expenditures of $5,000 or more would be subject to disclosure. It also requires ads for or against ballot questions to include a “paid for by” notice, including the names of up to three of its top donors

New York Email Describes Hochul Meeting Before $637 Million Deal with Donor for Covid-19 Tests
Buffalo News – Chris Bragg | Published: 1/23/2023

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration used emergency authority to buy $637 million in coronavirus tests through a company owned by a major Hochul campaign donor. Hochul and her allies have insisted the governor did not have any direct involvement in the deal. The governor said her “only involvement” was directing her team to purchase as many tests as possible from any available sources. But an email from the company’s owner, Charlie Tebele, suggested he may have directly discussed Covid-19 tests with Hochul at a campaign fundraiser Tebele had thrown for the governor.

New York Trump Withdraws Second Lawsuit Against New York Attorney General
MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 1/24/2023

Donald Trump withdrew a second lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James related to her office’s fraud probe of his business practices. No reason was given for the withdrawal. Trump first filed the lawsuit in federal court in Syracuse, claiming James was violating his rights and that of his company by pursuing a politically motivated investigation. After a judge in May found “no evidence” James had acted with bias, Trump appealed the ruling. The withdrawal of the appeal was the second time in five days that Trump had abandoned litigation against James, who is pursuing a $250 million against Trump.

Ohio ‘Clear as Mud’: Ohio’s new voting restrictions from GOP raise alarm
MSN – Meryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 1/19/2023

Weeks after a Republican-backed voting law significantly reshaped Ohio’s election procedure, local officials, advocates, and voters are still making sense of the changes and how the alterations could restrict who might cast ballots in 2024. Legal challenges of the law could further complicate the situation: A federal lawsuit brought against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose by groups representing the homeless, teachers, seniors, and veterans argues the restrictions are unconstitutional and suppress votes.

Ohio Ohio’s Historic Corruption Case Tests Limits of Citizens United
Bloomberg Law – Alex Ebert | Published: 1/20/2023

Former House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Matt Borges are on trial in what federal prosecutors have called the largest corruption case in the state’s history. Prosecutors allege Householder, Borges, and consultants Jeffrey Longstreth, Neil Clark, and Juan Cespedes accepted millions of dollars in “dark money” from FirstEnergy to pass legislation that included a $1 billion bailout for the utility’s nuclear power plants. The defense maintains the arrangement was politics as usual and protected by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United v. FEC decision and other precedent.

Pennsylvania Refusal to Release Inaugural Donors Exposes Gap in Pa. Law
MSN – Marc Levy (Associated Press) | Published: 1/23/2023

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s refusal to disclose who paid for his inaugural bash exposed the gap in state law that lets governors escape the kind of transparency that is sometimes required elsewhere. Presidential inaugural committees are required by federal law to disclose donors who give over $200 to inaugural celebrations. States like Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey have such laws, as do cities including New York and Philadelphia, where city officials also cap the amount that an individual donor can give to an inauguration. Many other states have no such disclosure laws.

Pennsylvania Shapiro Bars Gifts from Lobbyists, Requires Ethics Training
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Capitolwire | Published: 1/20/2023

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an executive order barring staff under his jurisdiction from accepting gifts from lobbyists and requiring state officials to sign an ethics pledge and complete ethics training. Eric Fillman, chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee who will lead the ethics training, said the new gift ban is intended to provide a degree of reasonableness that will ensure lobbyists cannot use gifts to gain undue influence while at the same time ensuring state officials can accept modest gifts from members of the community.

Virginia Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Put Pressure on Virginia General Assembly
OpenSecrets – Jimmy Clothier | Published: 1/25/2023

A coalition of grassroots organizations gathered at the Virginia General Assembly to urge state lawmakers to pass campaign finance reform. While lawmakers have already rejected some proposals, multiple bills that failed in prior legislative sessions advanced out of committee. Others are up for consideration in the coming days. Virginia’s laws governing political spending are among the least restrictive in the country, with virtually no limits on the amount of money state politicians can accept from donors, as well as loopholes that allow for the personal use of campaign funds.

Wisconsin 2023’s Biggest, Most Unusual Race Centers on Abortion and Democracy
DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 1/25/2023

Wisconsin will hold an election that carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in 2023. The April race for a seat on the state’s evenly divided Supreme Court will determine the fate of abortion rights, gerrymandered legislative maps, and the governor’s appointment powers – and perhaps even the state’s 2024 presidential election if the outcome is again contested. The contest will almost certainly shatter spending records for a judicial election in any state. The seat is nonpartisan in name only. Indeed, the clash for the court is striking because of how nakedly political it is.

Wyoming Bill Would Prohibit Former Legislators from Immediately Becoming Lobbyists with 2-Year Wait Period
Cowboy State Daily – Leo Wolfson | Published: 1/23/2023

The Wyoming Legislature is considering a bill that would prevent former state lawmakers from serving as lobbyists within two years after leaving elected office. Under House Bill 146, those who violate the waiting period could face up to $5,000 in fines. Rep. Scott Smith, who sponsored the bill, said his attention was drawn to the issue when he learned his opponent in last summer’s Republican primary, former Rep. Shelly Duncan, had become a lobbyist. Until Smith was sworn in this year, Duncan was the House District 5 representative.

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