News You Can Use Digest - July 15, 2022 - State and Federal Communications

July 15, 2022  •  

News You Can Use Digest – July 15, 2022


Election Officials Fear Copycat Attacks as ‘Insider Threats’ Loom
MSN – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 7/12/2022

Election officials are confronting a wave of threats and security challenges coming from a troubling source: inside the election system itself. In interviews at the National Association of Secretaries of State’s conference, a dozen chief election administrators detailed a growing number of “insider threats” leading to attempted or successful election security breaches aided by local officials. The most prominent was in Colorado, where a county clerk was indicted for her role in facilitating unauthorized access to voting machines. But there have been similar instances elsewhere.

Judge Rejects Bannon’s Bid to Delay Trial, Executive-Privilege Claim
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 7/11/2022

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols refused to delay Stephen Bannon’s trial after the Justice Department called an offer by the former Trump aide to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection a “last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability” on charges of criminal contempt of Congress. Bannon was indicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena for his testimony and records about his actions leading up to the Capitol riot.

Lindsey Graham Argues Constitution Grants Him ‘Absolute Immunity’ in Georgia Election Interference Probe, a Response One Former Prosecutor Calls ‘Disturbing’
Yahoo News – Charles Davis (Business Insider) | Published: 7/13/2022

Lawyers for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham are arguing that he cannot be forced to testify before a Fulton County grand jury about alleged election interference, claiming he enjoys “absolute immunity” under the Constitution for phone calls he placed to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating efforts by former President Trump and his allies to pressure officials in Georgia to overturn President Biden’s victory.

Michael Flynn Cited for Unauthorized Foreign Payments
MSN – Dan Lamothe and Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) | Published: 7/8/2022

Michael Flynn, the retired Army general and onetime adviser to former President Trump, was cited by the Defense Department inspector general for failing to disclose lucrative speaking engagements and other business arrangements with foreign entities, prompting the U.S. government to pursue tens of thousands of dollars in penalties against him. The Army notified Flynn it would seek to recoup $38,557.06 from him.

Morton’s and Others Brace as Activists Offer Cash for SCOTUS Sightings
Yahoo News – Emily Heil and Tim Carman (Washington Post) | Published: 7/11/2022

The Washington, D.C. location of Morton’s the Steakhouse is the first known restaurant in the city to be dragged into the protests over the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was dining there but left via a side door as a handful of protesters gathered outside. The activist group ShutDownDC tweeted it would pay restaurant workers to tip them off if they spot any of the six justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

‘Operation Higher Court’: Inside the religious right’s efforts to wine and dine Supreme Court justices
Yahoo News – Peter Canellos and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 7/8/2022

Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who once headed the group Faith and Action, said he arranged for couples to fly to Washington to visit with and entertain Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and the late Antonin Scalia. Schenck said the couples were instructed to use certain phrases to influence the justices while steering clear of the specifics of cases before the court. The calculated nature of Faith and Action’s efforts shows how outside actors can use social activities and expensive dinners to penetrate the court’s highly sealed environment.

Ron Johnson’s $280k Cash Gifts to Chief of Staff and Wife Draw U.S. Senate Ethics Complaint
KPVI – Alexander Shur ( | Published: 7/12/2022

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and his wife paid his former chief of staff, Anthony Blando, and Blando’s wife $280,000 in cash gifts while they worked together, an arrangement Democrats say is a breach of Senate rules. The Senate’s ethics rules limit how much congressional aides can be compensated and how much and from whom they can receive gifts. The Johnsons’ cash gifts to Blando appear to follow one guideline allowing aides to receive gifts from senators but appear to clash with another guideline saying cash gifts are not acceptable. They also raise questions about whether they are an attempt to circumvent the compensation limits.

The Fight Over Truth Also Has a Red State, Blue State Divide
Yahoo News – Steven Lee Myers and Cecilia Kang (New York Times) | Published: 7/10/2022

In the absence of action at the federal level, officials in state after state are taking aim at the sources of disinformation and the platforms that propagate them – only they are doing so from starkly divergent ideological positions. In this polarized era, even the fight for truth breaks along partisan lines. The result has been a rush of state bills and legal maneuvers that could reinforce information bubbles in a nation divided over a variety of issues and along geographic lines. The biggest hurdle to new regulations, regardless of the party pushing them, is the First Amendment.

Trump Hid Plan for Capitol March on Day He Marked as ‘Wild’, Panel Says
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 7/12/2022

Donald Trump scrawled the words on Twitter that motivated right-wing extremists to seek blood on January 6, 2021, and kept secret a plan to direct his supporters to the Capitol that day, according to evidence and testimony presented at the seventh hearing of the House select committee investigating the riot. The message marked a turning point in Trump’s efforts to stay in power and, in the telling of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, “would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm and change the course of our history as a country.”

U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Release of Trump Financial Records to House
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 7/8/2022

A federal appeals court panel ruled House lawmakers can see years of former President Trump’s financial accounting records but narrowed the range of documents Trump must turn over in a long-running legal battle over his compliance with presidential ethics and disclosure laws. Both sides can still appeal the three-judge panel’s ruling. But the decision marked a partial victory for each side over a subpoena issued in 2019 by the House Oversight Committee to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA.

‘Unhinged’: The White House meeting that preceded Trump’s ‘will be wild’ tweet
MSN – Rosalind Helderman and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 7/12/2022

About six weeks after Donald Trump lost his reelection, a fistfight nearly broke out in the White House between the president’s fired national security adviser and a top White House aide. A motley crew of unofficial Trump advisers had talked their way into the Oval Office and an audience with the president to argue the election had been stolen by shadowy foreign powers, perhaps remotely via Nest thermostats. Even for a White House known for its chaos, the December 18, 2020, meeting demonstrated how Trump invited fringe players advocating radical action into his inner sanctum as he searched for a way to remain in office.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama Alabama Ethics Commission Says It Doesn’t Have to Share Exculpatory Information with Accused
Yahoo News – Brian Lyman (Montgomery Advertiser) | Published: 7/13/2022

The Alabama Ethics Commission said it did not have to disclose evidence that could potentially clear a person accused of violating state ethics laws during an investigation. The unanimous vote came after a discussion where the state attorney general’s office argued the accused had the right to access such material, and members of the commission raised concerns about its investigatory nature, the potential of discouraging legitimate complaints, and the current wording of the ethics statute.

Arizona Arizona Activists Want a Vote on Expanding Access to Voting
MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 7/7/2022

Citing efforts by Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature to restrict access to voting, a coalition of advocacy organizations, community groups and volunteers is attempting to expand voting rights in the state through a ballot initiative. The coalition gave state elections officials the signatures of more than 475,000 Arizonans who want to see the issue put to a vote in November. The initiative would also limit the amount of money that lobbyists could spend on special events and travel for lawmakers at $500.

Arkansas Groups Use Arkansas PACs Loophole to Donate Above Campaign Contribution Limits
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Lisa Hammersly | Published: 7/10/2022

In Arkansas, each PAC can donate the state limit of $2,900, a loophole in state campaign finance laws when one organization fields many PACs, experts say. Disclosure data shows groups of business and political interests and lobbyists with multiple PACs give some favored candidates substantially more in contributions than Arkansas allows for one individual or a group with only one PAC. While Arkansas permits such donations from related PACs, federal election rules and some other states do not.

California Campaign Finance Reform Efforts in Anaheim Deadlock Again – And Again
Los Angeles Times – Gabriel San Román | Published: 7/13/2022

When the Anaheim City Council debated campaign finance reform for a third meeting in a row, it proved to be anything but a charm. Election spending in Anaheim has come into sharper focus since an FBI probe into former Mayor Harry Sidhu. Councilperson Jose Moreno introduced a bill intended to curb what he called “pay-to-play” politics, but another tie vote by the council sunk the reform effort again.

California Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do Faces $12,000 State Fine Over ‘Pay to Play’ Politics
Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio and Hosam Elattar | Published: 7/11/2022

Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do is facing a $12,000 fine for steering lobbyist contracts to his own campaign donors, something the California Fair Political Practices Commission says violates state “pay-to-play” restrictions. FPPC investigators said it happened while Do was serving on the CalOptima board, the agency that oversees the county’s medical insurance plan. The FPPC also found Do violated regulations on a series of behested payments.

Colorado 3rd Arrest Made in Alleged Colorado Election Security Breach
MSN – Colleen Slevin (Associated Press) | Published: 7/13/2022

The former elections manager for a Colorado clerk indicted on charges of tampering with voting equipment has been arrested on allegations she was part of the scheme. Sandra Brown, who worked for Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, surrendered in response to a warrant issued for her arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation and attempting to influence a public servant. Peters and her chief deputy, Belinda Knisley, are being prosecuted for allegedly allowing a copy of a hard drive to be made during an update of election equipment in May 2021.

Connecticut A West Haven Official Approved Contracts, Payments for His Family Business
MSN – Andrew Brown (Connecticut Mirror) | Published: 7/12/2022

Robert Bruneau, a city council member and fire commissioner in West Haven, used his elected position as a leader of the West Shore Fire District to authorize contracts and payments for a company owned by his wife and son. Documents show Bruneau, along with his two fellow fire commissioners, approved more than $81,000 in payments to Bruneau’s Garage, which he and his family have owned and operated for more than a decade. Bruneau was also recently singled out in a state audit that examined questionable spending by the West Haven city government.

Connecticut Wife of Former CT Lawmaker Pleads Guilty in West Haven Theft Case
MSN – Andrew Brown (Connecticut Mirror) | Published: 7/12/2022

Lauren DiMassa, who is now married to former Connecticut Rep. Michael DiMassa, admitted her part in stealing more than $147,000 from the city of West Haven. Records show Michael DiMassa, who served as an assistant to the West Haven City Council, approved 16 payments that went to his future wife. The records show Lauren DiMassa sent invoices to the city and claimed to be performing services under a youth violence prevention grant. She billed for things like meals, equipment, supplies, transportation, personal protective equipment, “counseling,” and “support clinics.”

Florida Election Issues: Two candidates say Sheriff Ivey tried to get them to drop out, offered jobs in exchange
Yahoo News – Eric Rogers and Bobby Block (Florida Today) | Published: 7/13/2022

For years, a political endorsement by Sheriff Wayne Ivey has been seen by would-be candidates for elected office and many voters in Brevard County as an anointment of approval by the area’s most prominent politician and law enforcement officer. But there is another side to Ivey’s endorsements, some candidates say. According to them, Ivey seeks to control who gets to compete in Brevard elections and who should not. Two candidates this year said Ivey pushed for them to leave the field and throw their support behind his favored candidates. In exchange, they say, Ivey has offered them political jobs worth up to $50,000 a year.

Florida Lobbyists, Including Former Governor Staff, Push Client for Emergency Management Warehouse Contract
Orlando Sentinel – Jeffrey Schweers | Published: 7/14/2022

Two of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former top staffers were among the lobbyists that sought to make sure their client was well positioned for a new Emergency Management warehouse and inventory control contract, emails show. The Division of Emergency Management originally planned to bid out the contract itself and asked the Legislature for $75 million to build and retrofit new warehouse space for supplies it was required to purchase for public health emergencies. But it agreed to side-step its normal bidding process after talking to legislative leaders.

Georgia Limits Set for Lawmaker Testimony in Georgia Election Probe
Yahoo News – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 7/7/2022

Georgia lawmakers appearing before a special grand jury in the investigation into whether former President Trump and others illegally meddled in the state’s 2020 election have broad immunity but can be asked about their conversations with people outside of the Legislature, a judge ruled. A former state lawmaker and Georgia’s lieutenant governor asked the judge to squash subpoenas seeking their testimony before the grand jury, citing legislative privilege and immunity.

Georgia State Ethics Agency Drops Charges in Abrams Fundraising Probe as Campaign Steams Ahead
Georgia Recorder – Stanley Dunlop | Published: 7/12/2022

Georgia’s ethics commission dismissed two charges against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams connected to her 2018 campaign. The commission’s action was based on documentation showing the Abrams campaign did not illegally receive donations from two supporting organizations, while other forms cleared up questions about an expense charged during her run against Gov. Brian Kemp. It marked the latest development in the wide-spanning investigation into whether the Abrams team coordinated with groups to help her election in 2018.

Hawaii Prosecutors Want Enhanced Punishment for Public Corruption
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 7/13/2022

County prosecutors in Hawaii want to see harsher sentences for public officials who try to defraud the government and are calling for better resources to investigate such crimes. The Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, a group tasked with beefing up government standards and ethics, heard from FBI agents, former state attorneys general, and county prosecutors during a forum to generate more ideas to crack down on public corruption in Hawaii.

Illinois Ex-Cook County Official Patrick Doherty Pleads Guilty to Several Corruption Schemes
Chicago Sun-Times – Jon Seidel | Published: 7/13/2022

Patrick Doherty, a former high-ranking Cook County official, admitted to a wide-ranging set of corruption schemes totaling $148,000 that involved the late Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval and ex-Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski. Doherty was originally hit with three bribery counts for his work as a sales agent for SafeSpeed. Prosecutors then expanded the indictment, he also schemed with Tobolski, who doubled as mayor of McCook, as well as Sandoval, who served as chair of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee.

Kentucky Gov. Beshear Scores Victory Against GOP Effort to Strip His Power Over Ethics Commission
MSN – Joe Sonka (Louisville Courier-Journal) | Published: 7/12/2022

A judge sided with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in his lawsuit to block a new law shifting the governor’s appointment power with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to other Republican constitutional officers. Jefferson Circuit Court Judge McKay Chauvin granted Beshear’s motion for a summary judgment to permanently block House Bill 334 because it violates the state constitution. Under the new law, the commission’s members are increased to seven by reducing the governor’s appointees to just two, while also granting one appointment each to five other constitutional officers.

Louisiana Ethics Board: Oliver Thomas can’t be paid by WBOK while station takes city money
New Orleans Advocate – Jeff Adelson and Mark Ballard | Published: 7/8/2022

The Louisiana Board of Ethics formally approved an opinion that would bar New Orleans City Councilperson Oliver Thomas from continuing to be paid for his talk show on WBOK as long as the radio station continues to receive city money for advertising. In reaching their decision, ethics board staff cited state laws prohibiting elected officials from working for companies that receive revenues from the government they work for.

Michigan Ex-State Rep. Inman Can [Face] Bribery, Extortion Charges Again, Court Rules
Detroit News – Hayley Harding | Published: 7/10/2022

Former Michigan Rep. Larry Inman can face a new trial after a federal appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss bribery and extortion charges. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker ruled in 2021 that Inman’s constitutional rights to speech would be violated and to retry him could be barred by the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution if he faced another trial on charges of soliciting a bribe and attempted extortion. The ruling means Inman can face trial for allegedly trying to get union lobbyists to buy his 2018 vote on repealing the state’s prevailing wage law.

Michigan Secretary of State Benson’s Husband Registered to Lobby for Billionaire’s Company
Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 7/8/2022

The husband of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who ran for office vowing to reform Michigan’s lobbying laws, is now a registered lobbyist himself. Ryan Friedrichs registered to lobby on June 29, according to a database maintained by the secretary of state’s office, which oversees lobbyists’ fillings. Friedrichs is one of three lobbyists in the state working on behalf of Related Companies, a New York-based real estate firm.

Minnesota Campaign Finance Board Finds Probable Cause in Action 4 Liberty Case
Minnesota Reformer – Baylor Spears | Published: 7/13/2022

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board found probable cause that the right-wing activist group Action 4 Liberty, which has been working to boost allies in upcoming Republican primaries, violated state campaign law. The board alleges the group made illegal corporate campaign donations to gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah and failed to report the contributions. The determination comes after a complaint to the board said certain Action 4 Liberty-connected emails mentioned Shah, which constituted an endorsement.

Montana Ninth Circuit Decision Takes Issue with Montana Rule Defining ‘Political Committees’
Fairfield Sun Times – Sam Wilson (Helena Independent Record) | Published: 7/7/2022

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found a portion of Montana’s law defining political committees is unconstitutionally vague in the case of Ed Butcher, a former Republican state lawmaker who maintains Legistats, a website that grades GOP legislators on party loyalty. The appeals court stopped short of striking down the administrative rule, which governs whether political spending in Montana needs to be reported and sent the case back to a lower court.

New York Hochul’s Vow to Fix Albany’s Culture Finds an Unexpected Foe: Herself
News Networks – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 7/11/2022

In Albany, billions of taxpayer dollars can be directed, redirected, or shut off in negotiations far from public view. Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to change that culture, promising “a new era of transparency,” including an ethics watchdog agency with “real teeth.” Yet as Hochul faces the November election, her promises of transparency and a changed culture appeared to have fallen short.

New York NYC Comptroller Brad Lander Got OK from Conflicts Board on Contracts with Nonprofits Tied to Wife’s Group
MSN – Michael Gartland and Clayton Guse (New York Daily News) | Published: 7/6/2022

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander said he asked for guidance and got the go-ahead from the Conflicts of Interest Board for his office’s review of contracts with nonprofits tied to a group run by his wife. Lander sought the advice a day after The New York Daily News reported dozens of nonprofits that have contracts with the city are also members of Meg Barnette’s group, Nonprofit New York. Since January, when Lander took office, nonprofits tied to the group have gotten contracts totaling at least $544 million from the city.

New York Report: Cuomo’s office ‘overpowered’ ethics watchdog in book approval
Spectrum News – Mick Reisman | Published: 7/7/2022

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office “overpowered” staff at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to win approval of a multimillion-dollar book deal for the then-governor, according to a report from JCOPE. The vote to release the report is expected to be one of JCOPE’s final acts after lawmakers voted to create a new commission to oversee lobbying and ethics. The sole vote against releasing the report was by Commissioner William Fisher, the remaining Cuomo appointee on the panel.

North Dakota North Dakota Ethics Panel Chooses Next Executive Director
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 7/12/2022

The North Dakota Ethics Commission selected Rebecca Binstock as its next executive director, replacing Dave Thiele. Binstock is a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland. She will begin her new job in September.

Ohio ‘Green Energy’ Initiative Leader Gets 120 Days in Jail for False Campaign Finance Report
MSN – Jordan Laird (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 7/12/2022

A Franklin County judge described the ongoing effort to put a “green energy” initiative on the Columbus ballot as an illegitimate attempt to steal taxpayer money when he sentenced its leader to 120 days in jail for filing a false campaign finance report in 2019. The judge also sentenced John Clark Jr. to pay a $2,500 fine. Clark has led multiple petition drives in recent years to get a “green energy” initiative put on the ballot that, if any had passed, would have diverted more than $40 million of taxpayer money toward ProEnergy Ohio, a limited partnership group led by Clark.

Ohio PG Sittenfeld Found Guilty of Bribery and Extortion, Not Guilty on Other Four Charges
WCPO – Paula Christian, Felicia Jordan, and Taylor Weiter | Published: 7/8/2022

Former Cincinnati City Councilperson P.G. Sittenfeld was convicted on federal charges of bribery and attempted extortion but was acquitted on four other counts. He could face two to three years in prison. Sittenfeld faced allegations that he agreed to accept $40,000 in payments to his PAC to “deliver the votes” in the city council for a proposed real estate development. He had been considered a top contender to run for mayor before he was indicted in 2020.

Oklahoma Oklahoma Ethics Commission Fines PAC [$62,750]
Center Square – Kim Jarrett | Published: 7/8/2022

A PAC that worked to get Republicans elected to the state Senate will pay a $62,750 penalty, according to a settlement agreement with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. The Republican Senatorial Committee agreed to pay $37,750 for impermissible contributions it accepted, as well as a $25,000 civil penalty. The commission also ordered the PAC to dissolve within 60 days.

Rhode Island AG Reviewing Prov. Council Candidate’s Campaign Finances
MSN – Steven Machado (WPRI) | Published: 7/7/2022

A candidate for Providence City Council was referred to the stet attorney general’s office for possible prosecution following a series of campaign finance violations. The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted to refer Gerard Catala to prosecutors after auditing his campaign account and finding more than $7,000 worth of spending that was not accounted for on his disclosure reports.

Washington Seattle Foundation Cops to Eight Campaign Finance Violations, Pays a Fine
Big Country News – Brett Davis (Center Square) | Published: 7/8/2022

The Seattle Foundation acknowledged a total of eight violations of campaign disclosure and contribution laws and paid a fine of $1,000. A complaint alleged the foundation failed to register and report in timely fashion as an “incidental committee” in 2019 and 2020 regarding a $50,000 contribution by Yes for Transit, a $50,000 donation from the Washington Fairness Coalition, and a $50,000 contribution from Keep Washington Rolling. Under state law, a nonprofit entity may be required to register as an incidental committee and disclose the top 10 donors whose contributions aggregate to $10,000 or more in the calendar year.

Wisconsin Wisconsin Supreme Court Disallows Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes
Yahoo News – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 7/8/2022

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person, dealing a defeat to Democrats who said the decision would make it harder to vote in the battleground state. The court did not address whether anyone other than the voter can return his or her own ballot by mail. That means that anyone could still collect multiple ballots for voters and, instead of using a drop box, put them in the mail.

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