News You Can Use Digest - June 14, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

June 14, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 14, 2024


Supreme Court Rules California Man Can’t Trademark ‘Trump Too Small’

Associated Press News – Mark Sherman | Published: 6/13/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against a man who wants to trademark the suggestive phrase “Trump too small.” The justices upheld the government’s decision to deny a trademark to Steve Elster, who was seeking exclusive use of the phrase on T-shirts and other merchandise. Government officials said the phrase” could still be used, just not trademarked because Trump had not consented to its use. Elster’s lawyers argued the decision violated his free speech rights, and a federal appeals court agreed.

Republicans Challenge Party Expenditure Limits at Sixth Circuit

Courthouse News Service – Kevin Koeninger | Published: 6/12/2024

The full U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether changes in the political landscape allow it to overrule Supreme Court precedent regarding limits on coordinated party spending in federal elections after oral arguments in the case. U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, and former Rep. Steve Chabot sued the FEC, seeking to invalidate portions of the campaign finance law that “limit a party committees’ campaign expenditures made in coordination with political candidates who are associated with the political party.” They say these spending limits violate the First Amendment.

Protesters Expected to Be Moved Away from Park Near GOP Convention

MSN – Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/12/2024

Protesters are no longer expected to be allowed in a large Milwaukee park near the arena where the GOP will host its July convention after a months-long pressure campaign by the party, according to a law enforcement official and another person familiar with the matter. The Secret Service is expected to expand its security perimeter around Fiserv Forum after the Republican National Committee said it would use another facility located near the park for some convention activities.

Sneakerheads in Congress Grow Their Footprint

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 6/12/2024

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz launched the Congressional Sneaker Caucus with Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer not long after coming to Congress. For him, forming the group was a passion project. He owns more than 150 pairs of sneakers. The caucus recently held the second annual Congressional Sneaker Day. Democrats do not have a monopoly on sneaker wearing, but the gathering was a largely Democratic affair and featured heavy representation from Oregon, where Nike is headquartered.

The AI Election Is Here. Regulators Can’t Decide Whose Problem It Is.

MSN – Cristiano Lima-Strong and Eva Dou (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2024

The federal government is facing a dwindling window to regulate the use of artificial intelligence (AI) on the campaign trail before the 2024 election. But a brewing turf war between federal agencies is threatening one of the most significant attempts to set new rules for the tools. The chair of the Federal Communications Commission announced a plan to require that politicians disclose AI use in TV and radio ads. But the proposal is facing opposition from a top official on the FEC, which has been considering its own new rules on AI use by campaigns.

Justice Thomas Discloses Two 2019 Trips Paid for by Harlan Crow

MSN – Ann Marimow, Justin Jouvenal, and Tobi Raji (Washington Post) | Published: 6/7/2024

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas disclosed for the first-time visits to Bali and to a private club in California in 2019 that were paid for by his friend and benefactor, billionaire Harlan Crow, according to financial disclosures released for eight of the nine justices. The required annual reports, covering activity in 2023, show three justices – Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Ketanji Brown Jackson – received six-figure book payments. Jackson also accepted four tickets worth nearly $4,000 from Beyoncé to one of her concerts.

Judge Cannon Strikes Paragraph in Trump Classified Document Indictment

MSN – Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 6/10/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon said she will delete a paragraph in the superseding indictment against Donald Trump that alleges he mishandled classified materials after he left the White House and thwarted officials’ attempts to retrieve them. The judge said prosecutors’ inclusion of paragraph 36, which alleges Trump showed a classified document in September 2021 about a military operation to someone without a security clearance, is inappropriate because it is not connected to a specific crime that Trump is accused of committing.

$800,000 Wire Transfer from Billionaire Donor to US Chamber Raises Curtain on Dark Money

MSN – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 6/11/2024

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce received a $800,000 wire transfer from billionaire donor Hank Meijer days after it endorsed his son, then-U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, in a contentious 2022 primary. Within days of the transfer, the Chamber spent $381,000 on an ad for Rep. Meijer. Because the ad does not advocate for his election or defeat, the Chamber did not have to disclose the donation from Hank Meijer. It also did not have to disclose other potential contributions behind the $1.8 million it told the FEC it spent on “electioneering communications” that cycle.

Smartmatic Seeks to Depose Four Fox Officials as Part of 2020 Lawsuit

MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 6/10/2024

Voting technology company Smartmatic subpoenaed four Fox Corporation board members as part of its $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News over its coverage of the 2020 election. The move follows a decision earlier by a judge ordering Fox to turn over relevant documents from the board members as Smartmatic requested. Smartmatic has argued the board members are relevant to the case the company is trying to make, that executives at Fox knew claims of election fraud made by Donald Trump allies were false but did nothing to stop the network’s coverage out of a desire to protect the company’s business fortunes.

Jared Kushner Hit with New Investigation

MSN – Katherine Fung (Newsweek) | Published: 6/12/2024

Senate Democrats are launching a new investigation into the foreign payments made to Jared Kushner’s investment firm. Finance Committee Chairperson Ron Wyden said the panel would investigate the billions of dollars that Affinity Partners manages from foreign sources. Kushner started Affinity in July 2021 after leaving the White House as a senior adviser to Donald Trump. The firm quickly attracted investors from the Middle East and within weeks, landed $2 billion from the Saudi public investment fund. Affinity continues to overwhelmingly derive the majority of its funds from the Saudi Arabian government.

Porter to Propose Bills to Modernize Lobbying Database, Extend ‘Cooling-Off’ Period

The Hill – Taylor Giorno | Published: 6/11/2024

U.S. Rep. Katie Porter introduced a package of bills intended to help Congress run more efficiently and curb influence-peddling by former members of Congress and government officials. The package of five bills includes legislation to modernize the federal lobbying disclosure database and enact a blanket two-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress, senior congressional staff, and senior executive branch officials.

‘Intimidated and Discarded’: Fired female execs go after top K Street firm

Yahoo News – Daniel Lippman and Megan Wilson (Politico) | Published: 6/9/2024

Last year, Shanti Stanton and another female senior executive at were abruptly fired in what they were told was a cost-cutting move at the K Street firm Subject Matter, now known as Avog. Stanton and Audrey Chang prepared to sue the firm for gender discrimination and a hostile work environment, among other accusations. The two women claimed they had been terminated despite being top performers at the firm. In a draft complaint, they alleged a litany of bad behavior. Steve Elmendorf, a prominent lobbyist and Democratic donor, and Paul Frick, another one of the firm’s founding partners, were named as defendants in the draft lawsuit.

How the Federal Election Commission Went from Deadlock to Deregulation

Yahoo News – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 6/10/2024

In a series of recent decisions that are remaking the landscape of money in American politics, an ascendant new bloc of three Republicans and one Democrat on the FEC is voting together to roll back limits on how politicians, political parties, and super PACs raise and spend money. Those on both sides of the ideological divide agree on one thing: the changes amount to some of the most significant regulatory revisions since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was put in place two decades ago.

Justice Alito Caught on Tape Discussing How Battle for America ‘Can’t Be Compromised’

Yahoo News – Tessa Stuart and Tim Dickinson (Rolling Stone) | Published: 6/10/2024

Justice Samuel Alito spoke candidly about the ideological battle between the left and the right, discussing the difficulty of living “peacefully” with ideological opponents in the face of “fundamental” differences that “can’t be compromised.” He endorsed what his interlocutor described as a necessary fight to “return our country to a place of godliness.” Alito made these remarks in conversation at the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual dinner. His comments were recorded by Lauren Windsor, a liberal documentary filmmaker.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Mayes Investigating Hobbs After GOP Accuses Gov of ‘Pay to Play’

Arizona Mirror – Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Published: 6/7/2024

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes opened an investigation into Gov. Katie Hobbs at the request of a Republican lawmaker after a report revealed a group home business that donated to Hobbs’s campaign received rate increases. It was reported that Sunshine Residential Homes was approved for a nearly 60 percent increase in how much the state Department of Economic Security pays it. The rate increase came after Hobbs and the Democratic Party received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the company and its executives, including some donated after her election win.

California – Effort to Strengthen Ethics Panel Moves Toward Full San Diego City Council Vote

MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union-Tribune) | Published: 6/8/2024

An effort to boost the independence and authority of the San Diego Ethics Commission is moving forward to the city council, and potentially to voters this November. The council’s Rules Committee voted unanimously to advance a proposed charter amendment to the full council. The amendment would make sure a future city council could not do away with the panel responsible for regulating campaign finance, lobbyist disclosures, and other political activities.

California – Find Out Which Lobbying Groups Get Their Way Most Often in the California Legislature

MSN – Ryan Sabalow (CalMatters) | Published: 6/12/2024

Los Angeles and the Bay Area tend to get their way in the California Legislature. So do labor unions, social justice organizations, and defense attorneys. On the flip side, anti-tax, police, and business groups are much less successful. Those are the key findings from a data analysis of the organizations that have been most successful in passing their agendas during the current legislative session, according to CalMatters.

California – Confidential File Alleges Former Mayor Libby Schaaf Secretly Used Political Committee to Raise Money from City Contractor

MSN – Eli Wolfe (Oaklandside) | Published: 6/12/2024

The Oakland Public Ethics Commission is investigating former Mayor Libby Schaaf for secretly controlling a committee to raise money for a 2018 ballot measure. A legal analysis written by commission staff describes how Schaaf allegedly controlled a supposedly independent political committee called The Oakland Fund to raise money for Measure AA. They allege Schaaf broke the law by never disclosing her control of The Oakland Fund, as did developer Justin Orton by giving money to the campaign while his company was negotiating a business deal with the city.

Florida – Waste Management Scholarships Gifted to Cooper City Commissioner’s Twins May Violate Ethics Laws

Florida Bulldog – Dan Christensen | Published: 6/9/2024

In a recent special recognition ceremony, Cooper City Commissioner Lisa Mallozzi took the podium to hand out scholarship awards to four high school seniors provided by the city’s longtime, though recently replaced, trash hauler Waste Management. Two of the $1,250 scholarships went to Mallozzi’s twin daughters, who use their father’s last name. Acceptance of the scholarships appears to violate state law, and county and city ordinances.

Florida – Federal Judge Blocks Enforcement of Financial Disclosure Rules for Elected City Officials

MSN – Dave Berman (Florida Today) | Published: 6/11/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Melissa Damian issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a state law that requires extensive financial disclosure by Florida’s mayors and city council members. A lawsuit filed by a group of city and town officials claimed the rule violates the First Amendment. Municipal officials feared the added disclosure requirement would discourage residents from running for municipal office, and potentially could create vacancies on city and town councils or commissions.

Florida – Central Florida Political Operative Admits Wrongdoing in ‘Ghost’ Candidate Scheme

MSN – Annie Martin (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 6/6/2024

Florida political operative Eric Foglesong, a key player in the 2020 scheme to use “ghost” candidates to promote Republican politicians, pleaded no contest to campaign finance related charges. As part of the plea deal, Foglesong agreed to serve five years of probation and pay $14,175. Running as a “ghost” candidate who does not actively campaign or sincerely seek election to an office is not a crime in Florida. But incorrectly reporting contributions or donating to a candidate’s campaign in someone else’s name, the crime Foglesong acknowledged, is illegal.

Florida – Appeals Court Rejects DeSantis Push for Executive Privilege

Yahoo News – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 6/12/2024

A Florida appeals court refused to go along with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s argument that he can shield public records due to executive privilege, a right that had not been recognized previously under state law that could have drastically expanded the governor’s ability to keep records from the public. The panel said there were sufficient procedural reasons to dismiss the lawsuit, without considering the executive privilege argument made by the DeSantis administration and endorsed by a Circuit Court judge.

Hawaii – Maui Ethics Board Could Get Overdue Boost Through 2 Reforms Under Review

Honolulu Civil Beat – Brittany Lyte | Published: 6/7/2024

Voters could decide this November if the Maui Board of Ethics should be able to hire its own full-time staff and whether appointed members should be able to serve two consecutive terms. The Maui County Council will consider approving the two ballot measures, but they are well on their way following a council committee vote in favor of them. The proposals came from the board, which is struggling to carry out its function as the county’s ethics watchdog amid a shortage of members, funds, and other resources.

Illinois – Aldermen Advance Ethics Reforms at Center of Tiff Between Johnson Ally and Mayor’s Office

MSN – Alice Yin (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/6/2024

Chicago aldermen advanced an ethics ordinance that would punish lobbyists for contributions to campaigns of mayoral candidates, in another instance of the city council moving to buck Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration. The Ethics Committee unanimously approved the measure to fine or suspend lobbyists who violate a rule already codified in a 2011 executive order banning them from making campaign contributions to a mayor’s political fund. The legislation now heads to a final council vote.

Indiana – ‘This Issue Is Going to Come Back to Haunt Us.’ Ratcliff’s Biggest Bet Yet Unravels

Yahoo News – Tony Cook (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 6/7/2024

Over a quarter century, Rod Ratcliffe had perfected the art of influence at the statehouse. The casino boss was a driving force behind nearly every expansion of gambling in Indiana. But one bet would be his boldest yet. Ratcliff sold his company, Centaur, and its two horse-track casinos to Caesars Entertainment for $1.7 billion. Ratcliff created a new company called Spectacle Entertainment. It purchased two riverboat casinos with plans to move the licenses to more lucrative locations. But the investment would only pay off if Indiana lawmakers and the new governor, Eric Holcomb, allowed Ratcliff and his partners to relocate the licenses.

Kentucky – Louisville Continues to Spend Less on Ethics Enforcement Than Similar Cities

MSN – Roberto Roldan (Louisville Public Media) | Published: 6/7/2024

Louisville now asks the Ethics Commission to do more than ever before, yet the majority of its work is done by a volunteer board. In 2022, metro council put the commission in charge of ensuring people who are paid to influence local officials register as lobbyists, for example. Ethics Commission Chairperson Dee Pregliasco said as the independent oversight body has been given more responsibilities in recent years, it has not received commensurate resources.

Louisiana – Louisiana Lawmakers Refuse to Endorse Child Care as Campaign Expense

Louisiana Illuminator – Julie O’Donoghue | Published: 6/12/2024

Five years ago, the Louisiana Board of Ethics told a candidate she could use her campaign funds to cover childcare costs as long as the expense was related to her efforts to get elected. But state legislators declined to insert codify that policy this year. They scuttled Senate Bill 153, which would have ensured candidates could use campaign dollars for election-related childcare. What is a legitimate campaign expense in Louisiana has been interpreted liberally over the years. Candidates are allowed to use their funds for Mardi Gras parades, charity golf tournaments, and vehicle maintenance.

Maryland – Baltimore Sun Republishes Reports from New Owner’s TV Station

MSN – Laura Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 6/11/2024

When David Smith bought the Baltimore Sun in January, staffers worried about how the newspaper might change under an outspoken owner who has supported conservative candidates and right-wing culture war causes. Now, journalists say stories under their names have been changed without their permission, and the Sun has been reusing reporting from one of the 185 local television stations owned by the Smith family’s Sinclair Broadcast Group. Two reporters demanded their bylines be removed from a news report after it was significantly altered without their knowledge.

Massachusetts – Bill to Allow Campaign Funds for Child Care on the Move in Mass.

Yahoo News – Michael Jonas (CommonWealth Beacon) | Published: 6/7/2024

A bill in Massachusetts would allow campaign funds to be spent on a candidate’s childcare expenses. While everything from pricey dinners to travel to far-off conferences can be paid with campaign funds under the broad definition of allowable spending that furthers a candidate’s political career, childcare was deemed to fall outside that interpretation.

Missouri – Missouri Ethics Commission Finally Has a Quorum – but Still Can’t Meet or Take Action

Yahoo News – Jason Hancock (Missouri Independent) | Published: 6/7/2024

Gov. Mike Parson appointed a fourth person to serve on the six-member Missouri Ethics Commission, providing the board with a quorum for the first time since March. But because one member has been unable to attend meetings since last fall, the commission is still one person short of being able to hold a meeting or take action on complaints. “We do have a quorum, but we don’t have four commissioners who can meet,” said Elizabeth Ziegler, director of the commission.

New York – Judge Ices Ethics Commission’s Case Against Former Senate IDC Leader

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 6/10/2024

A judge ordered the state ethics commission to halt its prosecution of former New York Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who filed a petition recently arguing the panel was formed in violation of the state constitution and lacks the authority to investigate allegations that he forcibly kissed a female staff member nine years ago. The temporary restraining order was granted by state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Marcelle, who last year ruled in favor of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo who argued the new ethics commission was unconstitutional and had no authority to investigate a $5 million deal he received for writing a book about his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

New York – A Candidate Got $162,000 in Public Money. His Secret: Fake donors.

DNyuz – Jay Root and Bianca Pallaro (New York Times) | Published: 6/10/2024

Scores of New Yorkers supposedly made small cash donations to Dao Yin, a businessperson running for the state Assembly. Despite his lack of name recognition, Yin is now one of New York’s top recipients of public matching funds – $162,800 at last count – after reporting the highest percentage of cash, the least traceable form of donation, of any state candidate who received matching funds this year. But after canvassing many of the homes associated with 55 people listed as cash donors to Yin’s campaign, the New York Times found at least 19 who said they had not contributed. Eleven others no longer lived at the addresses listed for them.

New York – Trump Meets with N.Y. Probation Officer Over Video

MSN – Mariana Alfaro and Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 6/10/2024

Donald Trump met with his probation officer via a video conference call, a routine step following his conviction in the hush money trial in New York. The interview is a routine step for defendants after a guilty verdict. The probation department prepares presentencing reports for judges and is in charge of interviewing convicted felons on topics including their personal history, mental health, and the circumstances that led to the conviction.

North Carolina – Flood of Dark Money? What the New Campaign Finance Provision in NC’s Mask Bill Does

MSN – Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi and Kyle Ingram (Raleigh News & Observer) | Published: 6/12/2024

State lawmakers passed a controversial bill that would loosen regulations on the “dark money” groups that are likely to spend tens of millions of dollars in North Carolina this year. Democrats said it is a way to benefit Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the GOP candidate for governor, and allow more donations where the source of the funding is not disclosed. Republican leaders said the bill would level the playing field for the two political parties when it comes to the national groups that fund state candidates for governor and attorney general.

North Carolina – Voters Have No Right to Fair Elections, NC Lawmakers Say as They Seek to Dismiss Gerrymandering Suit

Yahoo News – Will Doran (WRAL) | Published: 6/13/2024

Lawyers for the state Legislature were in court arguing to throw out an anti-gerrymandering lawsuit that targets North Carolina’s new political maps as a violation of a constitutional guarantee of fair elections. The lawsuit argues the state constitution guarantees the right to fair elections, which these maps violate. The Republican-led Legislature argues no such right exists, since it is impossible to define what “fair” means.

Ohio – Coal Bailouts Will Have Added $500M to Ohioans’ Electric Bills by the End of 2024

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 6/7/2024

Legislation from 2019 that a federal jury found passed as part of a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme has cost Ohioans $307 million through 2023 to bail out coal-fired power plants in the state and in Indiana. By the end of this year, projections say that will reach nearly $500 million, paid through add-on charges to monthly electric bills. Despite four criminal convictions, six more indictments, and an admission of guilt by FirstEnergy for bribing the state’s top utility regulator alongside a sitting House speaker to pass the legislation, the coal bailouts codified within that legislation remain on the books.

Pennsylvania – Pa. Legislators Introduce Bills Prohibiting AI Use in Political Campaigns

Government Technology – Maia Nehm (Lancaster Online) | Published: 6/8/2024

Two newly introduced bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature would prohibit the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to impersonate candidates in campaign literature and advertising. State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick said the legislation was prompted by the use of robocalls targeting New Hampshire Democratic voters in January. Those calls featured an AI impersonation of President Biden’s voice and discouraged recipients from voting in the state’s presidential primary.

Texas – This Catholic Leader Shelters Migrants. Texas Says He Runs ‘Stash Houses.’

MSN – Arelis Hernández (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2024

The patriarch of Annunciation House, a faith-based network of shelters based in El Paso, Ruben Garcia has taken in tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants he calls “guests.” Working in collaboration with immigration officials, he provides them food, clothes, and a first home in the U.S., and some of his expenses are reimbursed by the federal government. It is work he sees as a religious calling – to help the most vulnerable, no matter how they arrived. But as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott clamps down on immigration, state investigators are raising questions about Garcia’s humanitarian work.

Vermont – A Lawmaker’s Bag Was Repeatedly Drenched, and Now a Colleague Faces a Probe

Seven Days – Kevin McCallum | Published: 6/7/2024

Vermont Rep. Mary Morrissey is under fire after she was allegedly caught on video surreptitiously pouring water into a fellow lawmaker’s tote bag at the statehouse. Morrissey faces an ethics investigation into whether she harassed Rep. Jim Carrol by secretly soaking his stuff several times during the recent legislative session. Rep. Angela Arsenault said she has seen a video that clearly shows Morrissey leave her committee room, walk over to a bag outside Carroll’s committee room, and dump a cup of water into it.

Vermont – 6 Bills – Tackling Municipal Ethics, Animal Welfare and More – Become Vermont Law – Emma Cotton | Published: 6/10/2024

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed bills related to animal welfare, diversity in courts, and addiction recovery support. He allowed a bill dealing with local ethics codes ethics to pass into law without his signature. House Bill 875 establishes a “municipal code of ethics” that applies to local officials such as select board members, clerks, and planning commissioners, among others. It is similar to a code of ethics for state officials that took effect two years ago.

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