July 28, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – July 28, 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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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