News You Can Use Digest - July 28, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

July 28, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – July 28, 2023


Senate GOP Leader McConnell Briefly Leaves News Conference After Freezing Up Midsentence

Associated Press News – Mary Clare Jalonick | Published: 7/26/2023

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell briefly left his own press conference after stopping his remarks midsentence and staring off into space for several seconds. McConnell was out of the Senate for almost six weeks earlier this year after falling and hitting his head. He was hospitalized for several days, and suffered a concussion and fractured a rib. His speech has sounded more halting in recent weeks, prompting questions among some of his colleagues about his health.

Prosecutors Drop Campaign Finance Charge Against Sam Bankman-Fried

DNyuz – David Yaffe-Bellany and Matthew Goldstein (New York Times) | Published: 7/27/2023

Federal prosecutors pursuing the criminal case against the cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried said they were dropping a charge that he violated campaign finance rules. Bankman-Fried was charged with fraud and campaign finance violations after the collapse of his company, FTX. He was extradited to the U.S. from the Bahamas, where FTX was based. But prosecutors said they had been informed by officials in the Bahamas the nation’s government had not intended to extradite Bankman-Fried on the campaign finance charge.

More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-dollar book deals

DNyuz – Steve Eder, Abbie Van Sickle, and Elizabeth Harris (New York Times) | Published: 7/27/2023

In recent months, media reports have highlighted a lack of transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports included Justice Clarence Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors. The justices’ book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

How George Santos Used Political Connections to Fuel Get-Rich Schemes

DNyuz – Grace Ashford (New York Times) | Published: 7/26/2023

In the years since U.S. Rep. George Santos first ran for the House in 2020, he has become adept at finding ways to extract money from politics. He founded a political consulting group that he marketed to other Republicans. He sought to profit from the Covid crisis, using campaign connections. He also solicited investments for and from political donors, raising ethical questions. A review of his political career found several previously unreported examples of how he sought to use the connections he made as a candidate for public office to enrich himself.

How Right-Wing News Powers the ‘Gold IRA’ Industry

MSN – Jeremy Merrill and Hanna Kozlowska (Washington Post) | Published: 7/25/2023

While the legitimacy of the gold retirement investment industry is the subject of numerous lawsuits, including allegations of fraud by regulators, its advertising has become a mainstay of right-wing media. The industry spends millions of dollars a year to reach viewers of Fox, Newsmax, and other conservative outlets. For years, gold IRA industry advertising has echoed accusations against Democratic politicians commonly found in news segments on conservative outlets. The ads tout the coins as a safe haven from economic uncertainty and social upheaval.

Many Redistricting Redos Pending, but ’24 Election Outlook Unclear

MSN – Michael Macagnone and Mary Ellen McIntire (Roll Call) | Published: 7/25/2023

There is a series of courtroom redistricting battles playing out in about a dozen states. Some new maps could be drawn in time to change the electoral landscape in 2024, when Democrats need a net gain of five seats to take control of the House. But others may still be facing challenges as that election goes forward. One attorney said drawing new districts just once a decade after the census comes out is almost passé, and ongoing litigation is the new normal.

Supreme Court Ethics Measure Advances on Party-Line Vote

MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 7/20/2023

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would place new transparency rules on U.S. Supreme Court filings, place new recusal standards on the justices, and require the court to adopt a code of ethics. The party-line vote came as Democrats said Congress must act because reports about undisclosed gifts and travel received by justices had stained the institution. Republicans called the measure an attack on the legitimacy of a conservative-controlled court that has ruled in ways Democrats do not like.

Risky Business: Top lobbying firms navigate uncertainty in tumultuous second quarter

MSN – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 7/21/2023

K Street’s top lobbying firms reported strong earnings in a quarter marked by uncertainty. Lobbyists said they have been hard at work on some of the must-pass bills in the 118th Congress, including the National Defense Authorization Act, the Federal Aviation Authorization, and the Farm Bill reauthorization. Against the backdrop of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the narrowly avoided debt ceiling crisis, the Biden administration has pushed for new regulations. Lobbyists say Biden’s regulators push is driving a significant amount of their work.

Trial Date in Trump Documents Case Set for May 2024

MSN – Melissa Quinn (CBS News) | Published: 7/21/2023

The federal judge in Florida overseeing the Justice Department’s case against former President Trump over his alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents has set a date for his trial to begin in May 2024. The Justice Department had requested the trial start by mid-December of this year, but Trump’s legal team pushed back, arguing instead for the proceedings to begin after the 2024 presidential election. The May 20 date means the trial will take place toward the end of the Republican presidential primaries.

Smithsonian Literary Fest Flagged ‘Sensitive’ Topics Before Cancellation

MSN – Sophia Nguyen (Washington Post) | Published: 7/22/2023

Less than a month before the Smithsonian’s Asian American Literature Festival was to begin, staffers prepared what they considered to be a routine memo discussing programs involving “potentially sensitive issues” they knew the host institution would want to be aware of in advance. Among the matters cited in the mem: a panel about book bans, and two events featuring queer, trans, and nonbinary writers. Hours later, the acting director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center, Yao-Fen You, informed organizers she decided to cancel the entire festival because of “unforeseen circumstances.”

Vaccine Politics May Be to Blame for GOP Excess Deaths, Study Finds

MSN – David Ovalle (Washington Post) | Published: 7/24/2023

The political maelstrom swirling around coronavirus vaccines may be to blame for a higher rate of excess deaths among registered Republicans in Ohio and Florida during the coronavirus pandemic. The new study underscores the partisan divide over coronavirus vaccines that have saved lives but continued to roil American politics even as the pandemic has waned. Yale University researchers found registered Republicans had a higher rate of excess deaths than Democrats in the months following when vaccines became available for all adults in April 2021.

‘This Is a Really Big Deal’: How college towns are decimating the GOP

Yahoo News – Charlie Mahtesian and Madi Alexander (Politico) | Published: 7/21/2023

In state after state, fast-growing, traditionally liberal counties with colleges are flexing their electoral muscles, generating higher turnout and ever greater Democratic margins. They have already played a pivotal role in turning several red states blue and they could play an equally decisive role in key swing states next year. Name the flagship university and the story tends to be the same. If the surrounding county was a reliable source of Democratic votes in the past, it is a landslide county now.

Fearing Trump’s Wrath, GOP Lobbyists Stay on the ’24 Primary Sidelines

Yahoo News – Hailey Fuchs (Politico) | Published: 7/25/2023

Republican lobbyists on K Street are not rushing to back Donald Trump in his third run for the White House. But they are not rallying in full force behind an alternative either. While some lobbyists are doling out cash, others are fearful any type of public opposition to the former president could make them persona non grata in Washington should he get back to the White House.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Google, Meta Fight with Canada Over Law Forcing Them to Pay for News

MSN – Amanda Coletta (Washington Post) | Published: 7/22/2023

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is in a high-stakes showdown with Google and Meta, accusing them of unfairly profiting at the expense of Canadian news outlets and of using “bullying tactics” to intimidate officials. At issue Canada’s Online News Act, which aims to shore up a struggling media industry by requiring tech firms to compensate domestic news publishers for the content shared on their platforms.

Alabama – Alabama Lawmakers Refuse to Create a 2nd Majority-Black Congressional District

National Public Radio – Jeff Amy and Kim Chandler (Associated Press) | Published: 7/21/2023

Alabama refused to create a second majority-Black congressional district, a move that could defy a recent order from the U.S. Supreme Court to give minority voters a greater voice and trigger a renewed battle over the state’s political map. State lawmakers faced a deadline to adopt new district lines after the Supreme Court in June upheld a three-judge panel’s finding that the current state map, with one majority-Black district out of seven in a state that is 27 percent Black, likely violates the Voting Rights Act.

Arizona – Two Organizations Trying to Influence State Politics Attempting to Get Exemptions for Prop 211 Disclosures

Arizona Capitol Times – Howard Fischer (Arizona Capitol Services) | Published: 7/25/2023

Rebuffed in their bid to totally quash a voter-approved ban on “dark money,” two organizations involved in trying to influence Arizona politics are now trying to at least get themselves and their donors exempted from its provisions. In new legal filings, attorney Scott Freeman again argues Proposition 211 and its requirement for disclosure of the true source of campaign money violates state constitutional provisions guaranteeing free speech and privacy. Those claims, first filed last year, were rejected by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott McCoy.

California – A Politician’s Downfall Reveals a Disney Exec and a Secret ‘Cabal’s’ Power Over Anaheim

MSN – Adam Elmahrek, Gabriel San Román, and Nathan Fenno (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 7/25/2023

The role of powerful business interests in Anaheim – home to Disneyland Resort and Angel Stadium – has come under renewed scrutiny amid an ongoing federal corruption investigation that became public last year. FBI affidavits detail strong alliances between city leaders and several unelected power brokers. Jordan Brandman provided an insider’s look at how Anaheim was run from when he became a city council member in 2012 to when he stepped down in disgrace two years ago. His account and records describe relationships that went deeper than the typical transactional ties that often bind lobbyists and government officials.

California – Real Estate Developer in Huizar Bribery Case Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

MSN – David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 7/21/2023

A federal judge sentenced a Los Angeles real estate developer to six years in prison for providing cash bribes to former city council member Jose Huizar, then attempting to hide the transaction from investigators. Dae Yong Lee was found guilty of giving $500,000 in bribes in exchange for the approval of a 20-story residential tower. He was also convicted of wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

California – Oakland’s Democracy Dollars Delayed, But Not Dead

Oaklandside – Eli Wolfe | Published: 7/26/2023

Oakland residents will not receive Democracy Dollars to spend in the 2024 general election due to the budget. But the program’s supporters are determined to see a successful launch in 2026. Democracy Dollar, an initiative to level the campaign finance playing field, was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. The measure called for giving every registered voter $100 in vouchers they could use to support candidates for city council, mayor, and other city offices.

California – Marilyn Flynn, Ex-USC Dean in Corruption Case with Ridley-Thomas, Sentenced to 3 Years Probation

Yahoo News – Matt Hamilton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 7/24/2023

Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of the University of Southern California’s (USC) social work program who admitted to bribing Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in exchange for his help securing the renewal of a county contract, was sentenced to 18 months of home confinement. Flynn admitted she agreed to send $100,000 from USC to the United Ways of California, which was sponsoring a new nonprofit led by Ridley-Thomas’ son. The money from USC coincided with the donation of $100,000 to USC’s social work program from a political campaign associated with Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Colorado – 7-Year Saga: Millions in legal fees in fight between ethics commission and Glendale mayor

Colorado Politics – Marianne Goodland | Published: 7/22/2023

In 2016, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission decided a complaint against Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon warranted an investigation. Seven years later, Dunafon said he still does not know what he is being charged with. In the meantime, the Colorado Court of Appeals decided the commission’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over the city government in the Dunafon case had no basis in law. While it is unclear when the case might be resolved, the battle between the commission and the city and its mayor has so far cost Glendale taxpayers more than $2 million.

Florida – DeSantis Doubles Down on Claim That Some Blacks Benefited from Slavery

MSN – Kevin Sullivan and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 7/22/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is intensifying his efforts to de-emphasize racism in his state’s public school curriculum by arguing some Black people benefited from being enslaved and defending the new African American history standards that civil rights leaders and scholars say misrepresents centuries of reality. “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed … being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” DeSantis said while standing in front of a nearly all-White crowd of supporters.

Florida – Politicians Got Spots in a VIP Suite for Lionel Messi’s Big Unveiling. Was It Official Duty or a Perk?

MSN – Anthony Man (South Florida Sun-Sentinel) | Published: 7/18/2023

Among the thousands of fans who packed Fort Lauderdale’s professional soccer stadium recently were prominent elected officials, who were hosted in a secure VIP area, where some were able to talk with and get pictures with Inter Miami’s new superstar player, Lionel Messi, and team co-owner David Beckham. The presence of the elected officials raised questions about what they were doing at the event. One Fort Lauderdale commissioner said it was improper for his colleagues to attend.

Florida – Failed Miami-Dade Commission Candidate Faces Long List of Campaign-Finance Charges

Yahoo News – Grethel Aguila (Miami Herald) | Published: 7/26/2023

Sophia Lacayo, a failed Miami-Dade Commission candidate, spent more than a million dollars challenging one of the county’s longest-serving politicians last year. Now, prosecutors allege some of that money was mishandled. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the violations were “deliberate steps” to sidestep campaign finance laws.

Georgia – Giuliani Not Contesting Making False Statements About Georgia Election Workers

MSN – John Wagner and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 7/26/2023

Rudy Giuliani, who served as a lawyer for former President Trump, is no longer contesting as a legal matter that he made false and defamatory statements about two former Georgia election workers – but argues in a new court filing what amounted to false claims about vote-rigging in the 2020 presidential election was constitutionally protected speech and did not damage the workers. The filing is the latest twist in a lawsuit brought by Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, who counted ballots in Fulton County during the November 2020 election.

Illinois – Chicago Watchdog Vows to Ramp Up Enforcement of Ethics Laws, Address ‘Deficit of Legitimacy’

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 7/25/2023

Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said her office’s decision to declare two high-profile Chicago politicians violated the city’s ethics laws should put elected officials on notice that she plans to step up efforts to hold rule breakers accountable. Witzburg vowed to pursue enforcement of Chicago’s ethics rules with “greater frequency and rigor than ever before – paying down the deficit of legitimacy at which the city operates by ensuring that people who break the rules are held accountable, regardless of their positions.”

Louisiana – Bid-Rigging, Ethics Violations Found in Unreleased New Orleans ‘Smart Cities’ Investigation

Louisiana Illuminator – Michael Isaac Stein (Verite) | Published: 7/23/2023

Investigators hired by the New Orleans City Council last year to look into the now-abandoned “smart cities” project found evidence of potential contract-rigging, ethics violations, and perjury by city officials. The final product concluded that the consortium of businesses that was selected for the proposed contract, Smart+Connected NOLA, had an unfair advantage in the public bidding process, and undisclosed financial relationships compromised the integrity of the process.

Massachusetts – Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson Admits to Ethics Violation, Pays Penalty in Connection to Hiring Relatives

MSN – Sean Cotter (Boston Globe) | Published: 7/25/2023

Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson admitted to an ethics violation and agreed to pay a $5,000 fine for hiring and then giving raises to her sister and son. Fernandes Anderson said both of her family members were “amazing” employees who she would happily hire again if it were allowed.

Michigan – ‘Cover-Up’ Alleged as Michigan Redistricting Member Cleared of Ethics Violation

MLive – Ben Orner | Published: 7/20/2023

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission cleared Commissioner Anthony Eid of any ethics violations after he left a position as deputy director of Michigan Voices, a nonprofit that had lobbied the commission. With questions of a conflict-of-interest dogging Eid, Commissioner Rebecca Szetela asked for a ruling regarding his employment. But at a recent meeting, Szetela’s item was pulled from the agenda after commission Chairperson Doug Clark announced Eid and Michigan Voices had mutually parted ways and the matter should be deleted from the agenda because it “has been taken care of.”

Minnesota – Minnesota Legalizes Crypto Contributions for State Campaigns

MSN – Torey Van Oot (Axios) | Published: 7/27/2023

Cryptocurrency contributions to state campaign committees are now explicitly allowed under a law that took effect recently in Minnesota. Under the new rules, campaigns must convert donations made via virtual currency to U.S. dollars within five days. The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board asked legislators to address crypto to get ahead of any potential issues as digital currencies grow in popularity, Executive Director Jeff Sigurdson said.

Nevada – Lombardo Fined $20K for Ethical Lapses in Nevada Governor Campaign

Las Vegas Sun – Casey Harrison | Published: 7/25/2023

The Nevada Commission on Ethics voted to censure and fine Gov. Joe Lombardo $20,000 for using his Clark County Sheriff uniform and badge while running for governor in 2022 but declined to levy the proposed fine. Commission Executive Director Ross Armstrong said each of the 34 social media posts in question violated two provisions of state law, or 68 violations in total, which left Armstrong to recommend the commission order Lombardo to pay a record $1.67 million civil fine, be censured by the body, and be compelled to establish an ethics officer within the governor’s office.

New Jersey – New Jersey’s Election Watchdog Dumps 107 Cases After Controversial Law Cuts Investigative Time

New Jersey Monitor – Dana DiFilippo | Published: 7/26/2023

The state’s election watchdog dismissed almost half its active investigations into reported campaign finance violations after legislators passed a controversial new law critics warned would weaken enforcement. The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) held its first meeting since its former commissioners resigned in protest over the new law, which Gov. Murphy signed in April. With four new commissioners appointed by Murphy recently, ELEC tossed 107 cases.

New Jersey – Former Top Aide to NJ Senate Leader Avoids Prison Time in Tax Evasion, Wire Fraud Case

Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 7/24/2023

Tony Teixeira, former chief of staff to the New Jersey Senate president, was sentenced to eight months of house arrest and three years of probation after pleading guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud. Teixeira admitted he conspired with political operative Sean Caddle to overcharge campaigns, PACs, and nonprofits for work done by Caddle’s consulting firms and split the proceeds. Kickbacks to Teixeira were concealed through cash and checks made out to Teixeira’s relatives.

New Mexico – Calls for a More Independent Harassment Review Process in NM Legislature Remain Unmet

Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 7/24/2023

Lawmakers are gathering all over New Mexico to discuss priorities for the next legislative session. Much like the 2023 Legislature, some lobbyists still feel unsafe at these meetings around the state’s public servants. Very little has changed since the last session, despite calls for more safety and accountability measures for lawmakers. After a senator who has had allegations against him in the past for sexual misconduct presented all day long at an interim committee meeting, lobbyists are raising their voices again for change in the Legislature.

New York – Restaurateur Who Paid Off New York Politicians Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison

DNyuz – Karen Zraick (New York Times) | Published: 7/26/2023

A restaurateur who was a key witness in a public corruption investigation was sentenced to four years in prison, ending an episode that churned up allegations of endemic wrongdoing that stretched across New York City and one of its most populous suburban areas. Harendra Singh pleaded guilty to charges he bribed a former Nassau County executive, Edward Mangano. Singh also admitted trying to bribe former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to get favorable treatment for a restaurant in Queens.

North Carolina – Are NC Legislators Allowed to Date Staff Members? Here’s What Their Rules Say.

MSN – Jazper Lu (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 7/24/2023

In a recent interview, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore defended his years-long relationship with a state official, noting the employee in question does not report to him. Moore also pointed out that rules allow legislators to date members of their own staff. This does not mean such conduct does not come under scrutiny, however.

Oregon – For One Democrat, the Price of Bucking Her Party Is a Flood of Bad Reviews

Seattle Times – Annie Karni (New York Times) | Published: 7/22/2023

Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez was elected to Congress last year as a Democrat and became one of only a small number of lawmakers in her party who periodically crosses over to vote with Republicans. Now, Gluesenkamp Pérez is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress, and Dean’s Car Care – the family business named for her husband – has become the target of vicious online trolling from the left. Negative online reviews of the business excoriate her for siding with Republicans on a bill to repeal President Biden’s student loan relief initiative.

Rhode Island – RI Ethics Panel to Investigate Gov. McKee’s Free Lunch with Lobbyist

WPRI – Eli Sherman | Published: 7/25/2023

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission opened an investigation into whether Gov. Dan McKee violated state law when a lobbyist treated him to lunch at a high-end restaurant. The state Republican Party called into question a meal where statehouse lobbyist Jeff Britt and his clients – executives of Scout Ltd. – met with McKee and his fundraising chairperson, Jerry Sahagian. Britt said the meal cost $228, and he picked up the tab after Sahagian told him he “did not have the campaign credit card.”

Tennessee – Tennessee Now Requires Court Order or Proof of Pardon to Restore Felon Voting Rights

Associated Press News – Jonathan Matisse and Travis Loller | Published: 7/21/2023

Tennessee has begun requiring felons who want their voting rights back to first get their full citizenship rights restored by a judge or show they were pardoned. Election officials say the step is required after a recent court ruling. But attorneys representing the state’s disenfranchised felons accuse officials of searching for ways to suppress Black voters.

Tennessee – What Happens When a Cash-Poor Billionaire Wants a New Sports Stadium? Lobbying.

Tennessee Lookout – Adam Friedman | Published: 7/26/2023

Amy Adams Strunk and her family own the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League. The family is wealthy by almost every standard except one – among sports owners. When they were almost two billion dollars shy of the cash needed for a new stadium in Nashville, the family turned to a strategy common for Tennessee businesses wanting help with a project. They hired a deep roster of lobbyists to convince lawmakers to raise taxes and fund their proposal with public dollars that those opposed to the stadium say could have been spent elsewhere.

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