News You Can Use Digest - January 7, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

January 7, 2022  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 7, 2021


Bureau of Prisons Director to Resign After Scandal-Plagued Tenure During Pandemic
MSN – Brian Pietsch and Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post) | Published: 1/6/2022

Michael Carvajal, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons whose tenure at the agency was marred by scandals and pandemic-induced struggles, will resign after nearly two years in the top position. In November, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to fire Carvajal after an investigation by the Associated Press found the Bureau of Prisons was a “hotbed of abuse, graft, and corruption [that] has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct.”

Complaint Could Roil DOJ Foreign-Agent Prosecutions
Yahoo News – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 12/31/2021

A new legal ethics complaint from a businessperson charged in a prosecution involving unregistered foreign lobbying threatens to roil two major cases in the Justice Department’s effort to crack down on foreign influence in the U.S. political system. The complaint was filed with the Justice Department on behalf of Nickie Lum Davis. The submission alleges Public Integrity Section Principal Deputy Chief John Keller acted unethically by negotiating a plea deal with Davis’ attorney at the time, Abbe Lowell, while Keller was investigating Lowell in a separate inquiry into what a judge called a “bribery for pardon” probe.

Ethics Investigators in Congress Increasingly Run into Walls
San Juan Daily Star – Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 12/30/2021

As U.S. House ethics investigators were examining four cases this fall detailing a sweeping array of improper financial conduct by lawmakers, they ran into an obstacle: two of the lawmakers under scrutiny refused to meet with them or provide documents. The investigators were not surprised. Over the past decade, fewer and fewer House members have been willing to cooperate with congressional investigations, a development that ethics experts warn could reduce accountability for misdeeds and erode trust in the institution of Congress.

Facebook Groups Topped 10,000 Daily Attacks on Election Before Jan. 6, Analysis Shows
Anchorage Daily News – Craig Silverman, Craig Timberg, Jeff Kao, and Jeremy Merrill (Washington Post) | Published: 1/4/2022

Facebook groups swelled with at least 650,000 posts attacking the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory between Election Day and the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, with many calling for executions or other political violence. The barrage, averaging at least 10,000 posts a day, turned the groups into incubators for the baseless claims supporters of then-President Trump voiced as they stormed the Capitol, demanding he get a second term. Many posts portrayed Biden’s election as the result of widespread fraud that required extraordinary action, including the use of force, to prevent the nation from falling into the hands of traitors.

Fear, Anger and Trauma: How the Jan. 6 attack changed Congress
MSN – Paul Kane, Mariana Sotomayor, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 1/3/2022

A year after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives can still look like a crime scene. Five metal detectors ring the outer doors to prevent weapons from getting onto the chamber floor. The trauma and fear from last year’s attack continue throughout the Capitol. Some lawmakers and staff continue to receive help from counselors to deal with post-traumatic stress. Shouting matches are common occurrences, with the potential for actual physical confrontation lingering. Interviews revealed a Congress that remains on edge and where worries about more violence are front of mind for many.

Garland: DOJ will hold those responsible for Jan. 6 riot accountable, whether they were present or committed other crimes
MSN – Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 1/5/2022

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to hold all those responsible for the January 6 riot accountable, whether they were at the Capitol or committed other crimes surrounding the day’s events, saying investigators are methodically building more complicated and serious cases and would prosecute people “at any level.” Garland’s remarks came as he faces pressure to do and say more about the investigation, and to focus more acutely on the actions of former President Trump and his associates.

GOP Election Reviews Face Battleground State Legal Tests
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 1/6/2022

Republicans running partisan reviews of the 2020 election results and Democrats trying to stop them are barreling toward court showdowns in two key swing states. Republican-led legislative chambers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are still forging ahead with investigations similar to earlier efforts in states such as Arizona, looking for evidence of fraud or other malfeasance in the vote. Election experts have warned that the reviews are a political vehicle for former President Trump and his followers to launder their conspiratorial beliefs about his loss into the mainstream under the guise of government investigation.

House Panel Asks Sean Hannity of Fox News to Cooperate in Jan. 6 Inquiry
New York Times – Michael Grynbaum and Luke Broadwater | Published: 1/4/2022

The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, respond to questions about his communications with former President Donald Trump and his staff in the days surrounding the riot. The committee detailed a series of text messages between the conservative host and senior officials in the Trump White House, illustrating Hannity’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser to the administration. The texts suggest Hannity was aware of, and concerned about, what Trump was planning for January 6, and bracing for a possible mass resignation of top White House lawyers as a result.

Jan. 6 Committee Slams Trump Bid for Supreme Court Detour on Records Subpoena
Courthouse News Service – Kelsey Reichmann | Published: 12/30/2021

The committee investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol urged the Supreme Court to deny a last-ditch effort from former President Trump to block congressional oversight of his records from the day. The opposition brief notes it was Trump who invited his supporters to the nation’s capital for an event and then encouraged them to march on the Capitol building, after the failure of his other efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Pointing to the landmark 1977 case that forced disclosure of the Nixon tapes, the committee contends Trump has only personal disagreement with the accurate application of precedent by the lower courts.

Nonfungible Tokens the New Fad for Campaign Fundraising
MSN – Gopal Ratnam (Roll Call) | Published: 1/4/2022

Some candidates are offering nonfungible tokens (NFTs) as part of their campaign fundraising. NFTs are a type of digital asset that may include things like posters, book covers, and sports cards and are identified by a unique code. Unlike cryptocurrencies, NFTs cannot be used in commercial transactions. Just as candidates seeking to raise money have always tapped into the hype of new technologies, the fascination with NFTs may be driven by its novelty, said Josh White of Vanderbilt University. If candidates allow donors to pay for NFTs using cryptocurrency, then it could open the door to campaign contributions from unknown donors, White said.

PAC Giving Continues to Give Some Companies Pause
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 1/5/2022

After the violent attack on the Capitol one year ago, dozens of corporate PACs made the unusual move of turning off their political donations. Most resumed their giving within months. But a few will withhold donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, at least through the 2022 midterm election cycle. The companies may be relying on other avenues of political influence, such as outside lobbyists to build connections with those members and their aides.

They Stormed the Capitol. Now They’re Running for Office.
Politico – Brittany Gibson | Published: 1/5/2022

The Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol is remembered as one of the darkest and most shameful episodes in American history. But at least 57 individuals who played a role in that day’s events – either by attending the rally that preceded the riots, gathering at the Capitol steps, or breaching the Capitol itself – are now running for elected office. Rather than disqualifying them from public service, the events appear to have served as a political springboard for dozens of Republicans who will be on the ballot this year for federal, state, and local offices.

Twitter Permanently Suspends Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Personal Account Over Covid-19 Misinformation
Yahoo Finance – Yelena Dzhanova and John Dorman (Business Insider) | Published: 1/2/2022

Twitter permanently suspended U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Only weeks after assuming office, Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, an extraordinary move taken by the Democratic-controlled House after Greene promoted a range of conspiracy theories and endorsed political violence on social media.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama 2-Week Campaign Fundraising ‘Blackout’ Starts Tuesday
Alabama Daily News – Mary Shell | Published: 1/6/2022

January 11 is the start of the legislative session in Alabama and a short “blackout” window in which candidates for state office cannot raise funds while lawmakers are meeting in Montgomery. In theory, the window keeps sitting legislators from accepting money while they are voting on bills. In practice, it now only covers about two of the possible 15 weeks of session. “It’s just stupid,” Rep. Mike Ball, chairperson of the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee, said about the blackout.

Alaska Alaska Legislative Ethics Committee Tells Eagle River Lawmaker to Stop Blocking Critics on Facebook
Anchorage Daily News – James Brooks | Published: 12/27/2021

An Alaska legislative ethics committee concluded Sen. Lora Reinbold violated state law by blocking a critic from commenting on her legislative Facebook page. In part because the Legislature has not updated its social media policies since 2011, the committee recommended no punishment. The complaint was filed by Rick Sinnott, a retired Fish and Game biologist who challenged Reinbold’s statements about COVID-19 but saw those comments removed and himself banned from her page.

Arizona Arizona Secretary of State’s Online Signature-Gathering System Breaks After Redistricting
Tucson Sentinel – Jeremy Duda (Arizona Mirror) | Published: 1/5/2022

Voters who want to sign online petitions and the candidates who need those signatures to get their names on the ballot this November are being thwarted by a glitch in the Arizona secretary of state’s system caused by the redistricting process. In counties that are overseeing springtime municipal elections, the glitch likely will not be fixed until nearly the deadline for candidates to file signatures so they can appear on the ballot.

Arizona GOP Officials in Arizona’s Largest County Confirm 2020 Election Was Secure in Rebuttal to Trump Claims
MSN – Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 1/5/2022

The November 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county was administered properly and not marred by fraud, the Republican-led local government concluded in a report. The document debunks, one by one, vague allegations of potential problems previously identified by the GOP-led state Senate and championed by former President Trump and his allies. Maricopa County officials said the rebuttal, released on the eve of the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was intended to highlight the ongoing dangers of unfounded claims of mass election fraud.

California San Diego Publishes a Beginner’s Guide to Participating in City Lawmaking
San Diego Union Tribune – Morgan Cook | Published: 12/31/2021

Do you want to get involved in making and changing laws in San Diego, but are not sure how? There is a brochure for that. The city created “Making a Difference: A Beginners Guide to Affecting Municipal Laws in the City of San Diego” to help residents participate in local government. The pamphlet is available on the city clerk’s website. Included in the guide is information about lobbying rules, making public comments at council and committee meetings, and suggesting ballot proposals.

Colorado Failed Colorado Congressional Candidates Still Have Lots of Campaign Money. Here’s Why.
Durango Herald – Jesse Paul and Sandra Fish (Colorado Sun) | Published: 12/28/2021

When U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado lost his 2020 reelection bid, his campaign still had $1.2 million in the bank. Nearly a year later, most of the money was still there. Gardner’s leftover campaign cash is not unusual, however. When a candidate ends a congressional bid, they can choose to close their accounts or keep the money with an eye toward the future and sometimes another campaign, which the dollars can be used toward. Political consultant Tyler Sandberg said there is no uniform reason campaigns keep their leftover cash. “But people don’t leave that money out there for no reason – there’s always a strategy behind it,” Sandberg said.

Delaware New Law Could Give Campaign Finance Scofflaws a Big Break
MSN – Randall Chase (Associated Press) | Published: 12/27/2021

Delaware election officials have failed to act as mandated by law against candidates and committees who have not filed required campaign finance reports, but the scofflaws could escape liability under a new law that became effective January 1. Candidates and committees owed more than $623,000 in fines for failing to file campaign finance reports on time. The Department of Elections appears to have done little to collect the outstanding fines or to enforce the reporting requirements. The new law eliminates the mandatory $50 daily fine and instead says the commissioner “may” issue a citation.

Delaware Sen. Darius Brown’s Criminal Trial Starts Wednesday After Misdemeanor Arrest in May
Yahoo News – Sarah Garland (Delaware News Journal) | Published: 1/5/2022

The trial of Delaware Sen. Darius Brown began in a case that has revealed inconsistencies in how lawmakers are treated and could end Brown’s legislative career. Delaware State Police charged Brown with offensive touching and disorderly conduct after police said the senator punched an acquaintance and threw a glass of water in a restaurant. In the General Assembly, Brown has faced multiple punishments for the arrest and a separate incident where he allegedly got into a verbal altercation with Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown. The Senate plans to conduct its first ethics inquiry in 35 years into Brown’s behavior.

Florida Clearwater Art Exhibit Used Trash to Make a Point, Then Questions Arose
Yahoo News – Tracey McManus (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 1/4/2022

Citizens can visit nine locations throughout Clearwater to see garbage transformed into art. Lina Teixeira, a city council candidate, organized the exhibit, in which she and eight others created artwork using cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and other trash that had been collected during a community-wide cleanup. But the project also created an ethical mess. Teixeira received a $6,000 grant from the Downtown Development Board. She said her portion covered a fraction of her costs to install and market the exhibit. “As a city council candidate, does her request to use city facilities as display sites represent a conflict of interest?” Clearwater cultural affairs coordinator Chris Hubbard asked City Attorney David Margolis in an email.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Moves Jacksonville News Conference After Protest and Handcuffing of Community Leader
Yahoo News – Dan Scanlan (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 1/4/2022

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had to make new arrangements for his recent news conference in Jacksonville after a handful of people protested and refused to leave the Duval County Department of Health building. Activist Ben Frazier was detained by officers after being warned he was trespassing if he would not leave as asked. He was handcuffed and escorted from his motorized wheelchair to a patrol vehicle. The governor’s staff said the event was private and for credentialed media only.

Florida Miami-Dade Prosecutors Target Prominent Political Consultants in Sham Candidate Case
Bakersfield Californian – Samantha Gross, Ana Ceballos, and David Ovalle (Miami Herald) | Published: 1/5/2022

Prosecutors appear to be targeting prominent Republican and Democratic operatives in Florida for potential criminal charges stemming from a 2020 Miami-Dade County election scheme marked by sham candidates. The criminal case is focused on whether former Sen. Frank Artiles paid an auto-parts dealer who shared the same surname as the Democratic incumbent more than $40,000 to run as a no-party candidate in the race for Senate District 37 to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” of the 2020 election, according to his arrest affidavit.

Hawaii Former Solar Executive Will Head Ethics Commission
Honolulu Civil Beat – Stewart Yerton | Published: 1/3/2022

Robert Harris, a former Sierra Club director and corporate lawyer, was selected executive director and general counsel of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. For the past eight years, Harris has been the director of public policy at Sunrun, a solar energy company.

Illinois As Federal Case Still Orbits Madigan, What’s Next for the ComEd Bribery Probe?
Bloomington Pantagraph – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 1/3/2022

It is Illinois’ biggest federal corruption investigation in years, but the most remarkable thing about the Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) bribery probe in 2021 might be what did not happen. At the beginning of the year, Michael Madigan, the then-powerful House speaker whose grip on the General Assembly was exposed as “Public Official A” in the ComEd scandal and again in a postelection indictment of a key player and others alleging ComEd paid bribes to win his influence. With the grand jury investigation still open, 2022 is certain to bring more speculation over whether Madigan will ever be charged. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Indiana These Special Interest Groups Spend the Most on Lobbying Indiana Lawmakers
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook | Published: 1/3/2022

Special interests spent more than $115 million over the past five years on lobbying to influence the Indiana General Assembly. The biggest spenders have a deeply vested financial interest in what happens at the Capitol. The biggest spender was telecommunications giant AT&T. The phone and internet service provider spent more than $1.7 million on lobbying over the past five years.

Kentucky Convicted Former Top KY Democrat Makes a Case for U.S. Supreme Court Consideration
Lexington Herald-Leader – Austin Horn | Published: 12/31/2021

A month after he reported to prison, prominent businessperson and former Kentucky Democratic Party chief Jerry Lundergan asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider overturning his conviction for illegally funneling $200,000 to his daughter’s political campaign. The petition states the federal ban on corporate contributions is unconstitutional when applied to donations from a close family member, as Lundergan gave the money to his daughter Alison Lundergan Grimes in her 2014 challenge against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Maryland Omicron Scrambles Lawmakers’ Pre-Session Fundraisers
Maryland Matters – Josh Kurtz | Published: 1/3/2022

For Maryland lawmakers, there is always a fundraising scramble in early January leading up to the start of the General Assembly session, when a 90-day blackout on raising money kicks in for state legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. According to lists of political events supplied by three Annapolis lobbying firms, at least 55 fundraisers for state lawmakers are on tap, including one hours before the annual legislative session begins on January 12. But COVID-19 has changed everything.

Michigan Feds Demand Ex-Detroit Councilman Spivey Get Stiff Prison Sentence
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 1/5/2022

Prosecutors said former Detroit City Councilperson André Spivey should spend more than three years in federal prison for pocketing more than $35,000 in bribes and sacrificing the best interests of city residents. They asked that Spivey be sentenced to 40 months for receiving bribes from a towing industry official who was seeking favors and trying to buy the council member’s vote. He received the money on eight separate occasions during a five-year period. Spivey is the highest-ranking person convicted in an ongoing crackdown on public corruption within city government and the police department.

Michigan Ungerrymandered: Michigan’s maps, independently drawn, set up fair fight
MSN – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 12/29/2021

One of the country’s most gerrymandered political maps has suddenly been replaced by one of the fairest. A decade after Michigan Republicans gave themselves seemingly impregnable majorities in the state Legislature by drawing districts that heavily favored their party, a new independent commission approved maps that create districts so competitive that Democrats have a chance of recapturing the state Senate for the first time since 1984. The work of the new commission stands in contrast to the type of hyper-partisan gerrymandering that has swept much of the country, and it may highlight a potential path to undoing such gerrymandering.

New Mexico Ethics Agency Calls for Firmer Disclosure Laws
Yahoo News – Dan McKay (Albuquerque Journal) | Published: 1/2/2022

The New Mexico Ethics Commission is recommending increased transparency requirements for lobbyists, such as disclosure of what bills they are working on and the provisions they are advocating for or against. State lawmakers, a handful of whom are married to lobbyists, would also have to disclose before voting if any family member lobbied on a bill. The commission is also proposing that lawmakers release more information about their sources of income and business relationships. the recommendations are designed to shed more light on potential conflicts at the Capitol.

New York Hochul Charts New York’s Recovery in First State of State Speech
New York Times – Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Grace Ashford | Published: 1/5/2022

In her first State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined her vision for shepherding New York through its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, while vowing to open a new chapter of ethical, more transparent government. Hochul faces a contested Democratic primary in June, her first election since she unexpectedly ascended to the state’s highest job after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August. She positioned herself as a champion of good government, proposing to overhaul the state ethics commission.

New York Internal Strife Engulfs New York’s Ethics Panel
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 12/30/2021

The internal strife within the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) follows years of criticism by many lawmakers, and some commissioners, about its alleged unwillingness to pursue meaningful investigations of top government officials, including former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Gov. Kathy Hochul has suggested the panel needs to be disbanded and replaced by an ethics body whose members are not appointed by the governor or other top lawmakers.

New York Over 4 Months, Hochul’s Office Discloses No Meetings with Lobbyists
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 12/28/2021

In the four months since Kathy Hochul became governor of New York, a public database, Project Sunlight, has not listed a single meeting between her administration and interests seeking to influence policymaking. Lobbyists themselves, however, reported having more than 200 instances of directly lobbying Hochul’s office on behalf of various interests in September and October that concerned regulations, rate making, and procurement – all topics covered by a 2011 disclosure law.

New York Trump, Ivanka, Don Jr. Subpoenaed in New York AG’s Probe
Yahoo News – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 1/3/2022

The New York attorney general’s office subpoenaed former President Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., demanding their testimony in an investigation into the family’s business practices. Attorney General Letitia James’ office said the subpoenas are part of a civil probe involving matters including “the valuation of properties owned or controlled” by Trump and his company. Lawyers for the Trumps filed court papers to block the subpoenas, accusing James of attempting to obtain testimony that could then be used against the Trumps in a parallel criminal investigation being overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

North Dakota AG Opinion Gives Clarification to North Dakota Ethics Panel
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 12/30/2021

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem concluded that a crucial section of the state constitution’s ethics amendment appears constitutional. His opinion gives clarification to the state Ethics Commission on its path in making rules for conflicts-of-interest. The language deals with state officials avoiding the appearance of bias and disqualifying themselves from “quasi-judicial” proceedings, such as members of the Public Service Commission, when campaign contributions create a perceived bias. It takes effect in 2022.

Ohio From Pancaking and Coingate to ECOT and House Bill 6: 50 years of Ohio public corruption cases
Yahoo News – Laura Bischoff (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 12/29/2021

Ohio is embroiled in the biggest public corruption case in state history and the largest open inquiry in any statehouse in the country. In June 2021, lawmakers expelled Larry Householder from his legislative seat, nearly a year after he was charged in a federal racketeering case. Householder, who was investigated by federal authorities two decades ago during his first stint as speaker, has pleaded not guilty. The racketeering case is expected to go to trial in 2022. But he is far from the first public official to be embroiled in scandal.

Pennsylvania Pa. Court Rules Against Former Pittsburgh Councilwoman Darlene Harris in Campaign Finance Case
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Paula Reed Ward | Published: 12/28/2021

A state appellate court ruled former Pittsburgh City Councilperson Darlene Harris must pay fines levied against her for failing to file financial disclosure reports during her campaign in 2019. The Commonwealth Court found the $4,150 fine levied against Harris was not excessive and was properly authorized. The ordinance, enacted by the city in 2015, requires candidates for office to provide a campaign finance report on the first business day of each of three months leading up to Election Day.

Rhode Island GOP Rhode Island Lawmaker Under Fire for Suggesting She Lost a Black Friend to Critical Race Theory
The Day – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 12/29/2021

Rhode Island Rep. Patricia Morgan is facing backlash after suggesting critical race theory cost her a friendship. “I had a Black friend. I liked her and I think she liked me, too,” tweeted Morgan. “But now she is hostile and unpleasant. I am sure I didn’t do anything to her, except be White.” The tweet was met with criticism from state Republicans and Democrats who called her comments “ignorant and embarrassing.” Her message also spawned the hashtag #IHadAWhiteFriend, with commenters giving serious and satirical examples of the gap in shared experiences between Black and White people.

South Carolina Eyeing Corruption Scandals, Gov. McMaster Puts Ethics on the Agenda for 2022
Greenwood Index-Journal – Avery Wilks (Charleston Post and Courier) | Published: 1/5/2022

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to beef up a pair of watchdogs that investigate government misconduct, make the state’s scandal-scarred sheriffs attend ethics training, and shine more light on special interests that secretly influence city and county councils. The governor will package those proposals into his soon-to-be-unveiled executive budget, calling on lawmakers to spend some $3.4 million more per year on measures meant to repair South Carolinians’ faith in their government.

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