January 6, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 6, 2023
Advocacy Groups Denounce GOP Proposals to ‘Gut’ Ethics Office
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 1/3/2023
Ethics advocacy groups are sounding alarms that a proposal from House Republicans to change the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) could eviscerate the watchdog, leaving it unable to function. The proposals, part of a package of new rules for the chamber, appear subtle but would have a major impact on the OCE, the groups say. Republicans have proposed term limits on OCE board members, a move that critics say would disproportionately affect Democratic members of the bipartisan body. The OCE would have to make hiring decisions within the first 30 days, a potentially impossible task if the board does not have a full slate.
House Joins Senate in Passing Electoral Count Act Overhaul in Response to Jan. 6 Attack
MSN – Amy Wang and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 12/19/2022
President Biden signed the omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government, which included the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act. It amends an 1887 law and reaffirms the vice president has only a ministerial role at the joint session of Congress where electoral college votes are counted. The measure raises the threshold necessary for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors.
Jan. 6 Report Recommends Congress Ban Trump from Office
MSN – Amy Gardner, Rosalind Helderman, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 12/22/2022
The House committee investigating attack on the U.S. Capitol recommended Congress consider barring former President Trump from ever holding public office again as a result of his role inciting that day’s insurrection. The committee released its final report, concluding 18 months of work with a carefully footnoted document intended to cement its findings that Trump’s conduct following the 2020 presidential election was to blame for the unprecedented assault on Congress.
Lobbyists Relish Return to Capitol After Years of COVID Restrictions
MSN – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 1/5/2023
Lobbyists returned to Capitol Hill on January 3. The end of strict rules for visitors at the Capitol will boost K Street’s visibility in time for the new Congress. Thousands of lobbyists roamed the Capitol campus without an appointment or congressional escort for the first time since March 2020, when Congress implemented COVID-19 restrictions. The rules made it difficult for lobbyists to meet with lawmakers in their offices. Congressional aides and K Street representatives increasingly relied on Zoom calls because getting people into Capitol buildings required too much time and planning.
Sam Bankman-Fried Funded More Than 90% of a Leading DC Ethics Group’s Political Arm in 2021
MSN – Brent Griffiths and Dave Levinthal (Business Insider) | Published: 12/29/2022
Indicted cryptocurrency financier Sam Bankman-Fried donated $760,000 to the Campaign Legal Center’s (CLC) action fund in 2021. The contribution amounted to more than 95 percent of CLC Action’s revenue for that year and roughly 94 percent of its expenses. Bankman-Fried’s spending helped support CLC Action, a 501(c)(4), as well as the ethics watchdog’s tax-exempt charitable arm. Under its action group, the CLC filed a number of prominent lawsuits in 2021.
Santos, a Suburban House and $11,000 in Campaign Payments for ‘Rent’
DNyuz – Grace Ashford and Dana Rubinstein (New York Times) | Published: 12/29/2022
There were a series of unusual disbursements in U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos’s campaign filings that experts say could warrant further scrutiny. There are also dozens of expenses pegged at $199.99, one cent below the threshold at which federal law requires receipts. It is not known if the spending was illegal, or merely unusual. Federal and local prosecutors said they would begin inquiries into Santos’s finances and background. A New Yor Times investigation revealed he misrepresented details of his education, work history, and property ownership, along with a previously undisclosed criminal charge in Brazil.
The ‘Red Wave’ Washout: How skewed polls fed a false election narrative
DNyuz – Jim Rutenberg, Ken Bensinger, and Steve Eder (New York Times) | Published: 12/31/2022
Polling helped feed what quickly became an inescapable political narrative in 2022: a Republican wave election was about to hit the country. In the election’s immediate aftermath, the polling failures appeared to be in keeping with misfires in 2016 and 2020, when the strength of Donald Trump’s support was widely underestimated and with the continuing struggles of an industry that arose with the corded home telephone to adapt to the mass migration to cellphones and text messaging. A New York Times review of the forces driving the narrative of a coming red wave, and of that narrative’s impact, found new factors at play.
Trump Tax Returns Undermine His Image as a Successful Entrepreneur
DNyuz – Jim Tankersley, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner (New York Times) | Published: 12/30/2022
House Democrats released six years of former President Trump’s tax records, offering new insight into his business dealings that further undermined his long-cultivated image as a successful businessperson. The release contained thousands of pages of tax documents, including individual returns for Trump and his wife, as well as business returns for several of the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization.
Twitter Reverses Longstanding Ban on Political Advertising
MSN – Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) | Published: 1/3/2023
Twitter said it was relaxing its ban on political and issue-based advertising, a reversal of the company’s long-standing approach to paid political speech. The policy change, which comes at a moment when major advertisers are defecting from the social media platform, would allow candidates and advocacy groups to spend money to promote themselves and their causes on the service. The company announced the change and promised to “share more details” as the work got underway. There was no explanation of why Twitter made the changes or how extensive the changes would be.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – After Overwhelming Voter OK, Political ‘Dark Money’ Law Hailed as Model
Cronkite News – Emilee Miranda | Published: 12/23/2022
Proposition 211, which Arizona voters approved in November, requires independent organizations that spend $50,000 or more in an election cycle to support or oppose a candidate or issue in a statewide race identify any donors who gave $5,000 or more. The trigger for disclosure in local campaigns, such as city council or school board races, is $25,000. Supporters call the ballot measure a model for the rest of the country, while opponents call it a threat to free speech.
Arizona – Gov.-Elect Hobbs Refuses to Disclose Donors to Inaugural Party
Arizona Daily Star – Bob Christie (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 1/1/2023
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is kicking off her term with a celebratory ball, a first for a new governor since Fife Symington had one in the 1990s. But Hobbs, who touted transparency as part of her leadership, has refused to disclose which people or corporations are paying for the party. The lack of full public disclosure extended to her taking the oath of office on January 2. That event was closed to the public and media, with the exception of a news photographer.
Arizona – Judge Rules Against Kari Lake in Bid to Overturn Arizona Election Results
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 12/24/2022
A judge rebuffed an effort by Kari Lake, the defeated Republican candidate for governor in Arizona, to reverse the outcome of the November election, ruling against her after a trial that showcased speculation about systematic malfeasance at the polls but failed to prove it. The finding was in line with recent judgements against Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem, the unsuccessful candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, respectively, who also challenged their losses. The rulings show how the judiciary in Arizona rejected challenges to election results and affirmed the will of voters.
Arizona – Phoenix Council Members’ Suns Arena Suite Usage Raises Ethics Policy Questions
Yahoo News – Taylor Seely (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/26/2022
For years, the city of Phoenix has had access to a luxury suite at the Footprint Center to promote economic development, but a controversy about city council members attending NBA playoff games and concerts the past two years is prompting discussion over whether or when such activity is ethically acceptable. While no one at City Hall says the council members violated the suite usage policy, some there are questioning whether it was appropriate for elected leaders to attend events in the skybox with campaign donors. Others wonder if it causes a perception problem.
California – Buried Treasure: California politicians stash $35 million in leftover campaign cash
MSN – Alexei Koseff and Ben Christopher (CalMatters) | Published: 12/21/2022
There are nearly 100 accounts belonging to political candidates in California with leftover campaign money. Some of the politicians holding onto past campaign contributions are simply waiting to figure out their next race, at which point they may tap into those eligible funds. Others are using the money to keep a foothold in the public arena, slowly spending down what is left on political donations, charitable contributions, and administrative expenses. Some of the money is merely sitting idle, in accounts where nothing much goes in or out, save interest and annual state filing fees.
California – Will Pay to Play Politics Be Curbed in the New Year?
Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio | Published: 1/3/2023
A new law in California aimed at curbing “pay-to-play” schemes at the local level across the state takes effect this year but questions are mounting on how effective it will be. The law mandates a 12-month waiting period for local elected officials to vote on items that could benefit campaign donors who gave $250 or more, among other provisions. Critics say it does not go far enough, arguing special interests can simply wait out the time restriction or bypass it by spending through PACs.
Florida – Florida’s Expanded Lobbying Ban Faces Legal Challenge. Some Officials Already Resigned
MSN – Anna Ceballos (Miami Herald) | Published: 12/30/2022
Five elected officials in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Leon counties are suing to block new lobbying restrictions that are among the toughest in the country. The measures prohibit elected officials in the state from working as lobbyists while holding public office, and bar state and local elected officials from lobbying their state agencies or offices for six years after leaving office. The court will hear arguments in the case on January 27. In the meantime, a number of public officials will be forced to decide whether to quit public office or their private jobs, said attorney Scott Hiaasen.
Florida – Newly Released Records Show Top DeSantis Adviser Used Private Email and Alias to Coordinate Migrant Flights
MSN – Matt Dixon (Politico) | Published: 12/28/2022
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s top safety official helped write language that helped a former legal client secure a state contract to oversee a controversial program to fly migrants from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard. In the process, the official, Larry Keefe, used a non-public email address that made it appear emails were coming from “Clarice Starling,” the main character from “The Silence of the Lambs.” They show Keefe helping Vertol Systems, who he represented when in private legal practice, draft invoice language the company used when submitting its proposal to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Illinois – Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wanted Chicago Bears to Change Her Season Ticket Seats Over Security Concerns
MSN – Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/5/2023
Citing security concerns, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration in 2019 requested “updating” her Chicago Bears season tickets, which she had held for years before being elected months earlier. Lightfoot’s security detail worried she would be hard to protect in the seats on the stadium’s 400 level, so they approached the Bears about moving her to a different location. Team officials worked with Lightfoot’s representatives to try to move the mayor’s seats, but the Bears had a problem of their own. A 2016 city ethics board ruling complicated the question of whether they could offer the mayor a free or even face-value upgrade.
Kansas – A Battle Over Subpoenas of Kansas Republican Officials Is Heating Up. Here Is What’s at Stake.
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital Journal) | Published: 12/27/2022
A judge declined a request from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to shield from the public hearings and documents related to a court tussle over subpoenas of top Republican Party officials. The cases regarding each of the seven individuals are at varying stages of adjudication, with the matter dismissed for some but ongoing for others. Attorneys for some of the defendants have sought to strike the commission’s court efforts under a state statute designed to crack down on lawsuits that are deemed to silence citizens.
Kansas – Newly Elected Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach Fined $30,000 by FEC for Illegal Contribution from ‘WeBuildTheWall’ Scam Organization
Yahoo News – Bryan Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 12/30/2022
Incoming Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach was fined $30,000 by the FEC for violating campaign finance laws during a failed 2020 U.S. Senate campaign. Kobach’s campaign rented the email list of “WeBuildTheWall, Inc.” for just $2,000 in 2019, significantly below the normal rate for corporate list rentals. The FEC found that discrepancy constituted an illegal in-kind contribution from a corporation.
Maryland – Nick Mosby Files Last-Minute Rebuttal to Ethics Charges, Suggesting Next Week’s Court Hearing Will Be Delayed
Baltimore Brew – Mark Reutter | Published: 1/3/2023
The Baltimore Board of Ethics asked a judge to penalize city council President Nick Mosby for noncompliance, saying he “is seeking only to delay” the proceedings in a case concerning a fundraiser that collected over $14,000, including $5,100 from persons doing business with the city, for Mosby’s legal defense fund. A fine of up to $1,000 a day can be imposed for failing to follow a city ethics order. Mosby’s attorney recently filed a court document that argues the board misapplied ethics rules and prohibitions against gifts to elected officials to ensnare his client, which is likely to further delay a hearing in the matter.
Montana – Lawmakers Deadlock on Political Practices Commissioner
Montana Free Press – Alex Sakariassen | Published: 1/3/2023
A panel of four state legislators reached an impasse over who should become Montana’s next commissioner of political practices. Now, the task of selecting a candidate falls squarely on Gov. Greg Gianforte, whose office has yet to provide a glimpse of any frontrunner. Five candidates appeared before the committee to answer questions about their past political affiliations, lobbying activity, and understanding of the commissioner’s responsibilities in state government.
New Jersey – NJ Law Is Meant to Increase Campaign Finance Transparency. It Also Guts Local Pay-to-Play Rules.
Gothamist – Nancy Solomon | Published: 12/26/2022
The New Jersey Legislature is on the verge of changing the state’s campaign finance restrictions, despite opposition from good government groups. The Elections Transparency Act would double the amount individuals or groups could give to non-gubernatorial candidates, parties, and county party organizations. It also would dismantle local laws that prohibit campaign donations from people who do business directly with local government and regulate all those contributions through state law instead.
New Mexico – Albuquerque Officials Will Have to Reveal More About Their Personal Finances in 2023
Albuquerque Journal – Jessica Dyer | Published: 1/1/2023
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed legislation updating the city’s ethics code regarding how much financial information the mayor and council members must reveal. City Clerk Ethan Watson said the new rules mirror financial disclosure standards once proposed for state officials but never adopted at that level. He said Albuquerque is now at the forefront of transparency policy.
New York – New York State Lawmakers to Be the Highest Paid in Nation at $142,000
Yahoo News – Joseph Spector (Politico) | Published: 12/22/2022
The New York Legislature voted to increase the pay of lawmakers who take office on January 1 from $110,000 to $142,000 a year, making it by far the highest paid state legislative body in the country. The next highest is California where lawmakers get $122,694. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law. Democrats defended the 29 percent increase, saying their salaries were stuck at $79,500 for 20 years before jumping to $110,000 in 2019 after a recommendation from a special compensation committee. The deal also includes limiting lawmakers’ outside income to no more than $35,000 a year.
North Carolina – New Year Brings Higher Limits for North Carolina Campaign Contributions
The Center Square – Victor Skinner | Published: 1/4/2023
The new year triggered higher campaign contribution limits in North Carolina to candidates and political committees, with the cap now set at $6,400. The State Board of Elections recalculates the donation limit every odd-numbered year based on the Consumer Price Index.
North Carolina – North Carolina Will Not Prosecute Mark Meadows for Voter Fraud
MSN – Meryl Kornfield and Kyle Rempfer (Washington Post) | Published: 12/30/2022
Mark Meadows, who was chief of staff to President Trump, will not be charged for voter fraud related to his 2020 registration and absentee vote in North Carolina, the state’s chief law enforcement official said. Meadows was under investigation after media reports that said the voter registration for Meadows listed a mobile home in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina he had never owned, stayed at, or visited.
Ohio – FirstEnergy Secretly ‘Engaged’ Corey Lewandowski to Lobby Trump for a Public Bailout, Subpoenaed Records Confirm After Years of Denials
Energy and Policy Institute – Dave Anderson | Published: 12/22/2022
FirstEnergy secretly ‘engaged’ Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to lobby the White House to deliver a public bailout for the utility company’s coal and nuclear power plants in 2017 and 2018, records released by the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel show. Lewandowski never registered as a federal lobbyist during the Trump administration and has for years denied worked for FirstEnergy as the company lobbied to secure a federal bailout.
Ohio – FirstEnergy to Pay $3.9M Fine for Withholding Lobbying Info from Federal Regulators
MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 1/3/2023
FirstEnergy will pay $3.9 million for failing to fully provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with requested lobbying and accounting information. The utility admitted it violated the FERC’s “duty of candor” rule and agreed to two years of compliance monitoring. FirstEnergy is continuing to work through issues related to bribes it doled out in support of House Bill 6, energy legislation in Ohio that provided about $1 billion to two nuclear power plants owned by a former subsidiary.
Oregon – The State Elections Director Advocated for Compliance and Investigations. Her Boss Says She ‘Didn’t Get It.’
Willamette Week – Nigel Jaquiss | Published: 1/4/2023
Deborah Scroggin’s resignation as Oregon’s elections director came 18 months after Secretary of State Shemia Fagan hailed her hiring following a nationwide search. But emails and interviews reveal Scroggin, a stickler for rules and transparency, and Fagan, who rose rapidly to the state’s second-highest office based on her bold approach to politics, were never on the same page. Initially, the Associated Press reported Scroggin stepped down because of the pressure of dealing with misinformation about elections. But when reporters asked her to confirm that explanation, Scroggin said Fagan had, in fact, asked for her resignation.
Pennsylvania – Mayoral Candidate Allan Domb Has Triggered the ‘Millionaire’s Amendment’ for Campaign Fundraising
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 1/4/2023
Mayoral candidate and real estate magnate Allan Domb triggered the “millionaire’s amendment” of Philadelphia’s political fundraising rules, which doubles the annual limits on how much money campaigns can raise from donors if any candidate gives their campaign $250,000 or more out of their own pocket. The limit on contributions from individuals is now $6,200, and $25,000 on donations from corporations or political committees. The provision stays in effect even if Domb drops or out of the race.
Pennsylvania – Philly’s Board of Ethics Has Fined Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and Mayoral Candidate Allan Domb
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/22/2022
Philadelphia City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson and former council member Allan Domb agreed to pay $2,000 in fines for violating city ethics rules in unrelated cases that involve mishandling required disclosures of real estate interests. Domb failed to follow the city’s process for disclosing conflicts-of-interest when the council considered legislation that affected a property in which he has an ownership stake. Johnson was investigated for failing to list rental income on his public financial disclosure after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the omission.
Texas – Individuals and Other Politicians Can Spend Money on Texas House of Representatives Race, Court Agrees
MSN – Robert Garrett (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 1/4/2023
A federal judge permanently barred the state from enforcing laws that prevent outside money from being spent on a race for Texas House speaker. Three individuals had sued, saying they wished to make expenditures on behalf of Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who is challenging current Speaker Dade Phelan. The trio argued the restrictions violate the First Amendment, specifically its protections for freedom of speech and association.
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