News You Can Use Digest - July 21, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

July 21, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – July 21, 2023


Supreme Court Justices and Donors Mingle at Campus Visits. These Documents Show the Ethical Dilemmas

Associated Press News – Brian Slodysko and Eric Tucker | Published: 7/11/2023

Documents reveal the extent to which public colleges and universities have seen visits by U.S. Supreme Court justices as opportunities to generate donations – regularly putting justices in the room with influential donors, including some whose industries have had interests before the court. The documents also reveal that justices have lent the prestige of their positions to partisan activity, headlining speaking events with prominent politicians, or advanced their own personal interests, such as sales of their books, through college visits. The conduct would likely be prohibited if done by lower court federal judges.

The Biden Administration Is Without a Confirmed Ethics Czar

Government Executive – Eric Katz | Published: 7/18/2023

The federal agency responsible for enforcing ethics rules across government is without a confirmed leader for the first time in five years and President Biden has yet to appoint anyone to fill the role. The lack of a confirmed director should not hinder the Office of Government Ethics’ daily operations, but Biden would be smart to pick a new permanent leader soon to signal he is serious about ethics, former agency officials said. Shelley Finlayson, chief of staff and program counsel at the ethics agency, will fill in as director on an acting basis.

Social Media Restrictions on Biden Officials Are Paused in Appeal

Las Vegas Sun – David McCabe and Steve Lohr (New York Times) | Published: 7/13/2023

A federal appeals court paused a judge’s order that had blocked much of the Biden administration from talking to social media sites about content. The case could have significant First Amendment implications and affect the conduct of social media companies and their cooperation with government agencies. The appeals court also called for expedited oral arguments in the case.

Door-Knocker Complaints Show Risks of DeSantis Super PAC Strategy

MSN – Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 7/13/2023

With his foot on the front porch of a home in Charleston, South Carolina, a canvasser for a $100 million field effort supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vented on July 7 about a homeowner who he said had told him to get off his lawn. The outburst seen on a Ring doorbell video recording highlighted a potential risk of the unprecedented effort by DeSantis donors to flood early primary states with thousands of paid door knockers armed with high-tech tools to win support one conversation at a time.

GOP Lawmaker Says He ‘Misspoke’ in Referring to ‘Colored People’ on House Floor

MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 7/14/2023

Rep. Eli Crane said he “misspoke” when he referred to Black Americans as “colored people” on the U.S. House floor while arguing the military should not focus on diversity, a comment that sparked an immediate outcry in the chamber and was condemned by Democrats. Crane, who served in the Navy, suggested any focus on diversity would lead to a lowering of military standards.

Trump Says He Received a Target Letter in Federal Jan. 6 Investigation

MSN – Perry Stein, Josh Dawsey, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 7/18/2023

Former President Trump received a letter from the Justice Department informing him that he is a target of the long-running investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The target letter and potential indictment further ensnare Trump in unprecedented legal peril while he is campaigning as the front-runner to be the 2024 Republican nominee for president. The letter also comes as state and federal prosecutors around the country appear to be preparing to lodge criminal charges related to efforts to overturn a presidential election.

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Explicit Visuals at Hunter Biden Hearing Draw Rebuke

MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 7/19/2023

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene showed what appeared to be sexually explicit images of Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, drawing immediate rebukes from Democratic members of the panel. The committee was hearing testimony from two IRS whistleblowers involved in an investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes when Greene, during her questioning, produced the graphic poster boards. While the faces of other people in the photographs were blocked with black boxes, what appeared to be Hunter Biden’s face was not censored.

Influential Activist Leonard Leo Helped Fund Media Campaign Lionizing Clarence Thomas

MSN – Shawn Boberg, Emma Brown, and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 7/20/2023

The 25th anniversary of Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was approaching, in a moment that would draw attention to his accomplishments but also to the misconduct claims that had nearly derailed his rise. A coordinated and sophisticated public relations campaign to defend and celebrate Thomas began. The campaign would stretch on for years and include the creation and promotion of a laudatory film about Thomas. It was financed with at least $1.8 million from conservative nonprofit groups steered by the judicial activist Leonard Leo.

No Labels Throws a Coming Out Party, Stoking Dem Fears of a Third-Party Bid

MSN – Lisa Kashinsky and Shia Kapos (Politico) | Published: 7/17/2023

The centrist group No Labels signaled it will present a candidate for a third-party presidential ticket by Super Tuesday if it is clear by then the choices will be Donald Trump and President Joe Biden and if the group sees public support for an alternative. The announcement underscored the group’s movement from a largely behind-the-scenes presence to a more visible force, one that has left Democrats increasingly alarmed about the prospect of a third-party candidate spoiling Biden’s reelection.

Judge Rebukes Tucker Carlson, QAnon Shaman for ‘Alarming’ Jan. 6 Show

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 7/20/2023

A federal judge denied a bid from Jacob Chansley to withdraw his guilty plea to obstructing Congress and rebuked the so-called “QAnon Shaman” for going on a Tucker Carlson program that gave a distorted view of the Capitol riot. Chansley finished his sentence in March. But after leaving prison, he asked U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth to undo his conviction, saying security camera footage from inside the Capitol aired by Fox News host Tucker Carlson showed police allowed him to wander around the building on January 6. Lamberth expressed his concern with Carlson’s misleading depiction of the riot.

Ancient Israeli Artifacts Intended for an Exhibition in Washington in 2019 Are Stuck at Mar-a-Lago, with Israel Struggling to Get Them Back

Yahoo News – Joshua Zitser (Business Insider) | Published: 7/18/2023

In 2019, Israel sent some of its national treasures to an event at the White House on the condition they would be returned within weeks. But almost four years later, the ancient artifacts are still at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and senior Israeli figures are scrambling to get them back. The artifacts include ancient ceramic candles that were sent to the U.S. from Israel for a Hanukkah event at the White House attended by Trump, Haaretz reported.

Gallagher Rolls Out ‘Retroactive Foreign Agents Registration Act’ with Bipartisan Support

Yahoo News – Brooke Singman (Fox News) | Published: 7/11/2023

Rep. Mike Gallagher, chairperson of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, is rolling out legislation with bipartisan support that would require individuals to retroactively register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act if they failed to do so while they were working for a foreign interest. The bill comes after a federal court issued a ruling last year that said if someone stops acting as a foreign agent, they have no continuing obligation to register for their work as a foreign agent.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Alabama Legislature Passes Redistricting Maps That Democrats Say Defy Court Order

MSN – John Wagner and Maegan Vazquez (Washington Post) | Published: 7/19/2023

The Republican-led House and Senate in Alabama approved dueling congressional maps that would increase the percentage of Black voters in the state’s Second District but not by enough, Democrats argued, to comply with a federal court order to create two districts in the state with at least close to a majority-Black population. The legislature is in special session following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found lawmakers previously drew districts that unlawfully dilute the political power of its Black residents in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Arizona – Arizona Allows Private Interests to Fund Politicians’ Legal Costs – and Keep It Secret

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 7/19/2023

Arizona law allows private companies, nonprofits, and other groups to contribute money for candidates’ legal fees without any reporting about who is donating how much. In 2016, lawmakers amended the state’s campaign finance laws amid a bitter debate over “dark money.” The standing practice of candidates not disclosing donations to cover legal costs was written into law. An exemption for accounting costs was included. Candidates and officeholders can voluntarily disclose their spending and fundraising as it relates to legal fees, but none contacted by The Arizona Republic chose to do so.

Arizona – Arizona Escalates Probe into Alleged Efforts to Swing Election for Trump

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 7/13/2023

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is ramping up a criminal investigation into alleged attempts by Republicans to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the state by signing and transmitting paperwork falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner. Mayes assigned a team of prosecutors to the case in May, and investigators have contacted many of the pro-Trump electors and their lawyers. Investigators have requested records and other information from local officials who administered the 2020 election, and a prosecutor has inquired about evidence collected by the Justice Department and an Atlanta-area prosecutor for similar probes.

California – Former San Francisco Building Inspector Gets One Year in Prison on Corruption Charges

Courthouse News Service – Michael Gennaro | Published: 7/14/2023

Bernie Curran, a former senior building inspector for San Francisco, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison for accepting gratuity payments in exchange for approving building permits. He pleaded guilty and had requested to serve his sentence at home. prosecutors said Curran used his position for his benefit and disregarded safety when issuing building permits.

California – S.F. City Hall Corruption: Top SFPUC official found guilty of fraud

MSN – St. John Barned-Smith (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 7/14/2023

Former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly was found guilty of federal fraud charges. Kelly was accused of misconduct related to two fraud schemes: trying to sway a city streetlight contract to a local contractor in exchange for gifts, and separately lying to a lender, Quicken Loans, to get a hefty loan to pay off construction debt and other financial obligations. The verdict concludes the prosecution of one of the most powerful city officials swept up in a yearslong corruption investigation.

California – S.F. Corruption Scandal: Chinese billionaire admits bribing former public works chief Mohammed Nuru

MSN – St. John Barned-Smith and J.K. Dineen (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 7/19/2023

Chinese billionaire Zhang Li admitted he bribed former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru with food, drinks, and other amenities during a trip to China in 2018. Prosecutors agreed to drop the conspiracy to commit wire services charge after three years, as long as Zhang acknowledged the misconduct and paid a $50,000 fine. Prosecutors allege Zhang wanted to influence Nuru to win favorable treatment on decisions and city approvals needed during the construction and development of a property in the city.

California – CA Attorney General, FBI to See Complete Corruption Probe into Anaheim City Hall

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 7/19/2023

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the FBI are expected to see all 300 pages of an independent corruption probe into Anaheim City Hall. Federal agents alleged a shadowy group of resort interests and lobbyists controlled policy discussions in Anaheim in sworn affidavits that surfaced last year. In February, the city council was reluctant to increase the funding for the probe without limiting its scope, which the investigators successfully refused to do. In the end, elected officials doubled the budget for the probe to a total of $1.5 million.

Florida – Report: Moonlighting ex-Collier official lobbied for county vendor in ‘apparent’ conflict of interest

WGCU – Rachel Heimann Mercader (Florida Center for Government Accountability) | Published: 7/17/2023

Collier County Deputy Manager Sean Callahan was fired in January 2022 after staff discovered he was secretly working as a lobbyist for a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, a moonlighting job that violated county policies, ethical guidelines, and anti-fraud measures. A new report by the county’s inspector general reveals one of Callahan’s undisclosed lobbyist clients, Jacobs Solutions, is a long-time vendor for Collier County.

Florida – Francis Suarez Is Fundraising with Drawing for Tickets to Messi’s Inter Miami Debut

Yahoo News – Joey Flechas (Miami Herald) | Published: 7/13/2023

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s presidential campaign is raffling off Inter Miami tickets as part of a blitz to secure enough donors to make the first Republican primary debate in August. Federal campaign laws generally permit raffles, but the campaign’s actions could raise questions about compliance with Florida’s gaming laws. A donation to Suarez for President, Inc. is not required to enter the drawing. The free-to-enter policy is required for nonprofits to legally hold raffles. But other public notices required by state law, including contest rules and the location and time of the drawing, were not shared in the tweet Suarez sent promoting the contest.

Georgia – Georgia Supreme Court Rejects Trump Petition to Block Election Probe

MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 7/17/2023

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Donald Trump’s petition to block an Atlanta-area district attorney from investigating him over allegations of 2020 election interference and to throw out evidence gathered by a special purpose grand jury in the case. The court said the petition lacked proof Trump’s constitutional rights had been violated; that “the facts or the law necessary” to remove Willis from the case exist; or that other courts had rejected his claims.

Illinois – Michael Madigan’s Ousted Chief of Staff Fights to Block Secret Recordings in His Federal Perjury Trial

MSN – Ray Long and Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 7/17/2023

Tim Mapes, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan, was captured on dozens of undercover FBI recordings talking about his family, political fundraising, and his ouster after a sexual harassment scandal. The conversations, described in a defense motion seeking to keep them out of Mapes’ perjury trial, shed new light on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and relationships among key members of Madigan’s inner circle as a series of scandals began to threaten the speaker’s decades-long grip on power.

Illinois – Chicago Watchdog Says Ald. Jim Gardiner, Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot Violated City Ethics Code

MSN – Alice Yin and Gregory Royal Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 7/14/2023

Ald. Jim Gardiner violated the city’s ethics code when he allegedly retaliated against a constituent and vocal critic by directing staffers to issue bogus citations against him, Chicago’s top watchdog found. The city’s watchdog also found probable cause that former Mayor Lori Lightfoot solicited campaign contributions from city workers in this year’s mayoral race.

Indiana – Breaking a Nondisclosure Agreement from Todd Rokita’s Office Could Cost Employees $25,000

MSN – Johnny Magdaleno (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 7/19/2023

Nondisclosure agreements that employees in Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita’s office are expected to sign would impose a $25,000 penalty for sharing personal information about Rokita. The contract gives Rokita and his staff the power to decide what information counts as confidential. It covers “personal or private information” about the attorney general, his employees, and their families. The contract does not prevent employees from reporting unlawful behavior. Experts said it raises concerns about constraints on free speech and the public’s right to know what goes on in the offices of elected officials.

Michigan – Michigan Charges 16 Trump Electors Who Falsely Claimed He Won the State

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 7/18/2023

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged 16 Republicans who falsely claimed to be the state’s 2020 presidential electors with forgery and other felonies, bringing the first criminal prosecution against Donald Trump electors as investigations over attempts to overturn election results intensify across the country. Those charged submitted official-looking paperwork to the federal government asserting they were casting the state’s electoral votes for Trump. Joe Biden won Michigan, and courts swiftly threw out lawsuits claiming Trump was the true winner of the state.

New York – Assembly Refuses to Release Records on ‘Drop-In’ Day Care Center

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 7/19/2023

The New York Assembly will not release its records regarding a childcare center that Speaker Carl Heastie allowed to be set up in a conference room of the Legislative Office Building this year. The large room had been converted to what Heastie called a drop-in center that was used by a handful of Democratic lawmakers who did not pay to have their children care for by staff aides, at times for hours. The space has been used for official purposes through the years ranging from legislative ethics meetings to employee training sessions.

New York – During First Year, State Ethics Watchdog Launched Few Inquiries

Buffalo News – Chris Bragg | Published: 7/16/2023

The Commission on Ethics and Lobbying and Government began only three new investigations and did not bring any enforcement action during its first year. Watchdogs criticized the law creating the new commission, the result of a compromise with a Legislature reluctant to relinquish influence over the panel. While there were significant changes, reform groups argued that because commissioners would still be appointed by top state elected officials, the new body would continue to lack independence.

New York – NYC Campaign Finance Board Demands Transparency from Everyone – but Itself

Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 7/17/2023

Following a media investigation, the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) acknowledged Executive Director Beth Rotman did not resign voluntarily as the agency publicly announced. Instead, she was asked to step aside following an inquiry by the CFB into concerns about her management. In the two months since announcing Rotman’s departure, internal documents and interviews show the agency, which prides itself on accountability and transparency, is facing an internal integrity issue of its own making related to Rotman’s exit.

New York – Appeals Court Orders New Congressional Lines in New York, a Potential Boon for Democrats

MSN – Michael Hill (Associated Press) | Published: 7/13/2023

A mid-level state appeals court ordered new congressional lines be drawn for New York, a ruling that could benefit Democrats in the 2024 fight for control of the U.S. House. The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court reversed a lower court and directed a state redistricting commission to start work on new proposed state congressional lines. Democrats are supporting the lawsuit, which seeks to scrap the 2022 lines under which Republicans flipped four congressional seats. Republicans pledged to appeal the case to New York’s highest court.

New York – Judges Deliver Losses to Trump in Two New York Cases

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 7/19/2023

Two federal judges handed legal losses to Donald Trump – one rejecting the former president’s bid to move from state to federal court his upcoming criminal trial on charges of falsifying business records, and the other denying a request for a retrial in a civil sexual assault case Trump lost in May. A judge said Trump did not sufficiently prove his alleged involvement in hush money payments to an adult film actress, which stretched into Trump’s presidency, was related to his official role. Another judge rejected Trump’s request for a new trial against E. Jean Carroll or an adjustment of damages a jury awarded in her case.

North Carolina – ‘A Political Force’: How NC prosecutors sway criminal justice bills in General Assembly

MSN – Ames Alexander and Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi (Charlotte Observer) | Published: 7/17/2023

North Carolina’s elected district attorneys wield great influence with Republican leaders in the General Assembly. Working behind the scenes, prosecutors have lobbied to block criminal justice proposals that would eliminate life sentences for juveniles, take the death penalty off the table for those with severe mental illness, and more. A chief element of their success is the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, a state-funded association that vigorously lobbies the Legislature. Many familiar with the group say it has grown more powerful since Chuck Spahos began doing its lobbying work.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Watchdog Agency’s Executive Director to Leave by End of Year

MSN – Nolan Clay (Oklahoman) | Published: 7/15/2023

The executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is stepping down. Ashley Kemp plans to leave by the end of the year. In her resignation letter, Kemp repeated her longstanding complaint that the Legislature has refused to adequately fund the commission. Lawmakers only gave the agency $687,950 for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Oregon – Oregon Ethics Panel Dismisses Case Against Former Port Director Over Amazon Data Center Tax Breaks

MSN – Mike Rogoway (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 7/14/2023

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission overruled its staff and dismissed a complaint against Gary Neal, the former director of the Port of Morrow, regarding his role in awarding tax breaks to an Amazon data center. Neal is one of four Morrow County officials who purchased a local company called Windwave Communications. Windwave provides fiber-optic service to Amazon’s data centers in the county. Commissioners were considering whether Neal had failed to disclose a potential conflict-of interest at a meeting about Amazon tax incentives.

Oregon – State Ethics Watchdogs Launch Investigation into Former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan

Oregon Capital Chronicle – Julia Shumway | Published: 7/17/2023

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission launched a full investigation into former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s conduct while in office, including her $10,000-per-month consulting job for marijuana entrepreneurs and whether she accurately reported her income and expenses to the state. Fagan resigned following revelations she took a side job for the owners of a troubled cannabis company while her office audited the state agency that regulates the marijuana industry.

Pennsylvania – Allegheny County Council Votes to Limit Role of Outside Money in Local Races

WESA – Julia Zenkevich | Published: 7/12/2023

Allegheny County Council voted to limit coordinated campaign expenditures between PACs and candidates running for county office. The bill offers clearer definitions for coordinated expenditures, in-kind contributions, and other means outside groups use to support a candidate. It also outlines the kinds of communication campaigns can and cannot have with independent expenditure groups.

Rhode Island – R.I. to Terminate Development Contract with Company That Accused State Officials of Inappropriate Behavior

MSN – Alexa Gagosz (Boston Globe) | Published: 7/17/2023

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee’s administration is terminating its contract with Scout Ltd., the Philadelphia-based developer that submitted plans to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory. The move comes after a consulting firm hired by the state determined the project would not be “in the financial interest of the state taxpayers” and just months after the developer accused two Rhode Island state officials of inappropriate conduct during a business trip to visit a Scout property in Philadelphia.

Texas – Top Texas Official Not Immune from Discipline in 2020 Election Subversion

Courthouse News Service – Stephen Paulsen | Published: 7/14/2023

In more bad news for the scandal-plagued Texas attorney general’s office, a state appeals court ruled a top official at the office is not immune from discipline over his alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 election. First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster previously dodged discipline by arguing that as a public official, he was immune from consequences sought by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a watchdog committee of the Texas state bar.

Virginia – Coworking Space for Lobbyists Opening in James Center

Richmond BizSense – Charlotte Matherly | Published: 7/19/2023

Inspired by years of working in hotel rooms and hallways, Angie Bezik and Cindy DiFranco are starting Capitol Caucus in Richmond, a coworking space exclusive to lobbyists, advocates, nonprofits, and others who engage with Virginia’s government. Bezik owns Principle Advantage, a government relations firm that she runs with DiFranco, who serves as its government affairs director. They want lobbyists to have a place just for themselves, where they can have private conversations and spend time with others in the industry.

Wyoming – Wyoming Lawmakers Ready to Address Ethics Complaints Procedure in Interim

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle – Jasmine Hall | Published: 7/13/2023

Wyoming lawmakers dipped their toes in the waters of ethics complaints as they began reviewing a portion of the joint rules of the Senate and House. Joint Rule 22-1 has provided means for any person to file a complaint against a lawmaker for misconduct involving legislative duties, such as a violation of the Ethics and Disclosure Act in state statute or “violence or disorderly conduct during legislative meetings, sessions or during the performance of the legislative duties.”

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