News You Can Use Digest - June 23, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

June 23, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 23, 2023


Capitol Rioter Who Shocked Police Officer with Stun Gun Is Sentenced to Over 12 Years in Prison

Associated Press News – Michael Kunzelman | Published: 6/21/2023

Daniel Rodriguez, who drove a stun gun into a police officer’s neck during one of the most violent clashes of the U.S. Capitol riot, was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone’s body camera captured him screaming out in pain after Rodriguez shocked him with a stun gun while he was surrounded by a mob. Fanone’s injuries ultimately ended his career in law enforcement.

Rigging the System: The Martin Kao case offers an inside view of pay-to-play politics

Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 6/20/2023

Ongoing civil litigation involving a former Hawaii defense contractor continues to shed light on the ways private companies and special interests seek to game the political system for their own personal benefit. Martin Kao, the former president of Martin Defense Group has pleaded guilty to a series of federal crimes involving illegal campaign donations and fraud. Now, he faces a new series of challenges as his former business partner seeks to hold him financially accountable for his crimes. Much of the lawsuit focuses on the illegal contributions Kao and others made to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Hunter Biden Reaches Deal to Plead Guilty in Tax, Gun Case

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2023

President Biden’s son Hunter reached a tentative agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to two minor tax crimes and admit to the facts of a gun charge under terms that would likely keep him out of jail. The agreement caps an investigation that was opened in 2018 during the Trump administration and has generated interest and criticism from Republican politicians who accused the Biden administration of reluctance to pursue the case. The terms of the proposed deal are likely to face similar scrutiny.

FBI Resisted Opening Probe into Trump’s Role in Jan. 6 for More Than a Year

MSN – Carol Leoning and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) | Published: 6/19/2023

Merrick Garland and his deputies in January 2021 were briefed on the investigation he had promised to make his highest priority as attorney general: bringing to justice those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol. But a Washington Post investigation found more than a year passed before prosecutors and FBI agents embarked on a formal probe of actions directed from the White House. Even then, the FBI stopped short of identifying Donald Trump as a focus of that investigation. Garland charted a cautious course aimed at restoring public trust in the department while some prosecutors felt top officials were shying away from looking at evidence of potential crimes by Trump and those close to him.

Lina Khan Rejected FTC Ethics Recommendation to Recuse in Meta Case

MSN – Leah Nylen (Bloomberg) | Published: 6/16/2023

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairperson Lina Khan declined to recuse herself from a case against Meta despite the advice of the agency’s top ethics official, according to internal agency documents. The FTC’s ethics official recommended that Khan remove herself from the case to avoid the appearance of bias, but left it up to Khan to decide, concluding it was not an ethics violation if she took part. Meta argued that public statements by Khan calling for a ban on its future acquisitions showed she could not be impartial.

House Passes Measure to Censure Adam Schiff

MSN – Amy Wang and Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2023

The House passed a measure to censure U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff for pressing allegations that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia. As the vote was finalized, Democrats filled the well of the chamber and surrounded Schiff. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” against the Republican caucus, and other Democrats yelled out “cowards!”

Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation with GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court

ProPublica – Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 6/20/2023

Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in his favor in business disputes, flew Justice Samuel Alito to a luxury fishing resort in Alaska resort on his private jet, a trip that would have cost Alito more than $100,000 one way if he had chartered the jet on his own. Alito did not recuse himself from a 2014 case involving Singer and voted with the majority in Singer’s favor. The justice did not report the 2008 trip on his annual financial disclosures. Experts said they could not identify an instance of a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.

Guilty Pleas in ‘Scam PAC’ Case Tied to 2017 Wisconsin Senate Race

Roll Call – Nathan Gonzales | Published: 6/13/2023

Controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is still considering a U.S. Senate run in Wisconsin this cycle, but two lawyers just pleaded guilty to conspiracy over a “scam PAC” to get Clarke to run in 2017. Jack Daly and Nathanael Pendley pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and lying to the FEC. Most of the $1.6 million raised was spent on operations to raise more money to personally benefit Daly and Pendley, not genuine efforts to convince Clarke to run for office.

How Local Officials Seek Revenge on Their Hometown Newspapers

Yahoo News – Emily Flitter (New York Times) | Published: 6/18/2023

In most of the country, state and local laws require public announcements – about town meetings, elections, and dozens of other routine occurrences – to be published in newspapers, as well as online, so citizens are aware of matters of public note. The payments for publishing these notices are among the steadiest sources of revenue left for local papers. Sometimes, though, public officials revoke the contracts to punish their hometown newspapers for aggressive coverage of local politics. Such retaliation is not new, but it appears to be occurring more frequently, when terms like “fake news” have become part of the popular lexicon.

Trump Real Estate Deal in Oman Underscores Ethics Concerns

Yahoo News – Eric Lipton (New York Times) | Published: 6/20/2023

On the Gulf of Oman, thousands of migrant laborers from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are building a new city, a multibillion-dollar project backed by Oman’s oil-rich government that has an unusual partner: Donald Trump. Agents are invoking Trump’s name to help sell luxury villas at prices of up to $13 million. Trump has been selling his name to global real estate developers for more than a decade. But the Oman deal has taken his financial stake in one of the world’s most strategically important regions to a new level, underscoring how his business and his politics intersect as he runs for president again amid intensifying legal and ethical troubles.

Judge Blames George Santos for Personally Feeding ‘Media Frenzy’ into His Mysterious Bail Sponsors Before Making Their Names Public

Yahoo News – Jacob Shamsian (Business Insider) | Published: 6/22/2023

A federal judge criticized U.S. Rep. George Santos for personally feeding the “media frenzy” into his two mysterious bail sponsors, which helped force her hand and make their identities public. Rep. Santos’s father and aunt signed his bond, making them responsible for $500,000 if Santos violates the conditions of his release ahead of a criminal trial. Prosecutors brought a 13-count indictment against Santos, alleging he personally stole donations to his campaign operation, illegally took pandemic employment funds, and lied to Congress on financial disclosure documents.

From the States and Municipalities

California – LA City Council Looks into Tougher Lobbying Rules That Could Impact Themselves

Los Angeles Daily News – City News Service | Published: 6/20/2023

The Los Angeles City Council requested a report on how the city could revise its ethics and conflict-of-interest laws to require lobbyists to disclose ties to a council member or their staff. Ethics Commission records indicated Stacey Brenner received more than $174,000 for lobbying efforts for a hotel project while her husband, Shawn Bayliss, was working as the planning and land use deputy for then-Councilmember Paul Koretz.

California – The Los Angeles City Council Is in Turmoil. Can It Manage to Fix Itself?

MSN – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 6/17/2023

Corruption charges filed against Los Angeles City Councilperson Curren Price are only the latest to rock a scandal-plagued City Hall. The case against Price comes eight months after a leaked audiotape exposed the racist remarks and backroom dealings of top city leaders, spurring one council member’s resignation and another’s ostracization. Now, multiple efforts are underway to reform the city council. But unlike past attempts to address what many say is a broken system, this time the call is also coming from inside City Hall, with key council members on board.

California – L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price Charged with Embezzlement and Perjury

MSN – James Queally, Julia Wick, and Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 6/13/2023

Los Angeles City Councilperson Curren Price was charged with 10 counts of embezzlement, perjury, and conflicts-of-interest, becoming the latest in a years-long parade of elected city officials to face public corruption allegations from state or federal prosecutors. Price is accused of having a financial interest in development projects he voted on, and receiving tens of thousands of dollars in medical benefits from the city for his now wife while he was still married to another woman.

California – Anaheim Top City Staff Shower Themselves with Free Tickets to Venues They Oversee

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada and Hosam Elattar | Published: 6/13/2023

Top Anaheim City staff members have showered themselves with hundreds of free tickets to Angel Stadium, the Honda Center, and the Convention Center over the last six months, often without an explanation as to why. City Manager Jim Vanderpool and other department managers handed out over 700 tickets to various events to a variety of city staff, and occasionally even to the city’s contracted vendors. These are the same staff members who oversee and negotiate leases with the very sports teams these tickets allow them to watch play professional baseball and hockey for free.

California – County Supervisor Fined by State Watchdog for Not Disclosing Free Chargers Tickets

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada | Published: 6/22/2023

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley was fined nearly $1,800 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to properly disclose free tickets to Los Angeles Chargers games she received in 2017. The violation happened while Foley was mayor of Costa Mesa. The commission said there were two instances where Foley received tickets to a Chargers game, with a total of seven tickets. While Foley reported some of the tickets, she failed to report all of the tickets or their total value.

California – Trump Adviser Faces Possible Disbarment Over His Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election

Yahoo News – Stefanie Dazio, Michael Blood, and Alanna Durkin Richer (Associated Press) | Published: 6/20/2023

Attorney John Eastman, the architect of a legal strategy aimed at keeping former President Trump in power, concocted a baseless theory and made false claims of fraud to overturn the 2020 election, a prosecutor said in arguing Eastman be disbarred. Eastman faces 11 disciplinary charges in the State Bar Court of California stemming from his development of a strategy aimed at having Vice President Mike Pence interfere with the certification of President Biden’s victory.

Connecticut – Former CT Port Authority Board Member Fined for Ethics Violations

MSN – Michael Brown (Connecticut Mirror) | Published: 6/19/2023

A former board member of the Connecticut Port Authority will pay $18,500 in fines related to allegations he used his position to benefit a maritime company he co-founded. Henry Juan III will pay the fine to resolve claims he violated ethics codes for both public officials and lobbyists. The state was prepared to prove at a hearing that Juan used his official position at the authority to advance the interests of Seabury Maritime, which included work related to the redevelopment of New London State Pier.

Florida – Gov. Ron DeSantis Used Secretive Panel to Flip State Supreme Court

MSN – Beth Reinhard and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2023

For decades, the ambitions of Florida’s Republican governors were stymied by the liberal-leaning state Supreme Court. But the court let Ron DeSantis erase a congressional district with a large Black population. It opened the door to a law making it easier to impose the death penalty. Now, it is poised to rule on the governor’s plan to outlaw most abortions in the state. DeSantis seized on the unusual retirement of three liberal justices at once to quickly remake the court. He did so with the help of a secretive judicial panel that vetted judicial nominees in an three weeks before the governor’s inauguration.

Florida – DeSantis Donor Supplied Golf Simulator for ‘Governor’s Cabana’ and Private Flights

MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, Nate Jones, Michael Scherer, and Alice Crites (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s wealthy donors and supporters lent a golf simulator to the Governor’s Mansion and provided private flights to fundraisers and other political events. AboutGolf simulators that require installation are typically built to fit a specific space and start at $27,500. DeSantis’s travel records, including those from past trips, are now exempt from public records requests, under a law he signed in May, citing security concerns.

Georgia – Georgia Poll Workers Targeted by Trump Cleared of False Election Fraud Claims

MSN – Jane Timm (NBC News) | Published: 6/21/2023

Years after their lives were turned upside down by conspiracy theorists, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea Moss, were officially cleared by Georgia authorities. The State Election Board dismissed its years-long investigation into alleged election fraud at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, more than two years after conspiracy theorists and then-President Trump claimed Freeman and her daughter had committed election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The fraud claims were “unsubstantiated and found to have no merit,” the investigation concluded.

Hawaii – Maui Ethics Board: You can’t keep those $400 Koa digging sticks

Honolulu Civil Beat – Mariana Starleaf | Published: 6/16/2023

To celebrate the start of construction for Pulelehua, a development of roughly 1,000 homes in part subsidized by millions of dollars from Maui County, each official who posed for photographs was given a wooden digging stick to take with them when the event wrapped up. The Maui Board of Ethics says county officials should give back the pricey koa digging sticks, worth an estimated $400, they received at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Illinois – Jury Convicts Politically Connected Chicago Businessman James Weiss of Attempting to Bribe Two State Legislators

Yahoo News – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/15/2023

A federal jury convicted a politically connected Chicago businessperson of attempting to pay off two state legislators to pass a bill beneficial to his sweepstakes gaming company. James Weiss was found guilty of bribery, fraud, and lying to the FBI. Prosecutors alleged Weiss wanted the state’s gambling expansion bill to include language explicitly legalizing sweepstakes machines, but it was left out of the proposal in the 2019 session. Weiss then agreed to pay monthly $2,500 bribes to get a deal done, first to Rep. Luis Arroyo and later to Sen. Terry Link.

Illinois – After Judge Rules Niles Ethics Board Cannot Be Elected, Citizens File Appeal

Yahoo News – Caroline Kubzansky (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/15/2023

Although a Cook County judge ruled that Niles voters could not elect the members of the village’s ethics board, the primary backer of the change and a candidate for the board are asking a higher court to reconsider the decision. Mayor George Alpogianis said when the elected board was ruled unconstitutional that the most recently seated board would be reconstituted. It is a twist in a three-year legal and political quest to establish an elected ethics board in Niles.

Kentucky – Beshear Campaign, Kentucky Democratic Party Return $202,000 Linked to London Mayor

Kentucky Lantern – Tom Loftus | Published: 6/20/2023

Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party refunded $202,000 in what they determined to be excess political contributions, money originally reported as donations from numerous members of the family of London Mayor Randall Weddle and employees of a company Weddle co-founded. Eric Hyers, manager of Beshear’s campaign, said the campaign recently determined all that money was donated on a credit card of Randall Weddle and his wife.

Maryland – Sports Betting Advocacy Group Tagged with Largest Elections Board Fine

Maryland Matters – Bryan Sears | Published: 6/21/2023

A consortium of top gambling companies was hit with the largest fine in the history of the Maryland State Board of Elections. The $48,000 penalty levied against Sports Betting Alliance was assessed for failing to comply with the state’s 48-hour disclosure requirements. The fine was related to activities during the 2020 campaign when voters were asked to approve legalizing sports wagering. All the fines were part of an audit marking the close of the most recent four-year fundraising cycle.

Massachusetts – Healey Created a Nonprofit to Bankroll Her Transition into Office. But the Donors Are Secret, and So Is How Much They Gave Her.

MSN – Matt Stout (Boston Globe) | Published: 6/22/2023

In the days after her election victory last year, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey created a tax-exempt group, headed by a veteran political operative, to raise money and “facilitate” her transition into office. But the source of those funds remains a secret, which, while legal, means state residents have little idea of whether someone sought to curry favor with the new administration by helping bankroll her early hiring process and, disclosures show, a retreat for Healey and dozens of appointees months after her swearing-in.

New Hampshire – The Budget Removes Limits on Campaign Donations. Not All Are Thrilled.

New Hampshire Bulletin – Ethan DeWitt | Published: 6/22/2023

In a change that took effect in January, the New Hampshire Legislature added limits on how much candidates could receive from political committees, and how much they could transfer from their previous campaign accounts. Where statewide candidates had once enjoyed unlimited transfers, they would be capped at $30,000 per cycle. The state budget this year included a last-minute amendment to do away with the limits, allowing any candidate, PAC, or political advocacy organization to transfer an unlimited amount of money directly to a candidate during an election cycle.

New Jersey – Governor Murphy Appoints New Campaign Finance Watchdog Board

New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 6/15/2023

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy appointed four commissioners to the state’s campaign finance watchdog, ending an 11-week stretch of inactivity that began when the last members of the Election Law Enforcement Commission board resigned in March over legislation they said defanged the agency. Provisions of the recently enacted Elections Transparency Act will allow the appointees to take their positions without the advice and consent of the state Senate.

New York – De Blasio Fined for Using City-Issued Security Detail During Presidential Campaign

MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 6/15/2023

The Conflicts of Interest Board said former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio owes the city nearly $320,000 and must pay a $155,000 fine for using his government-issued security detail on travel “in connection with his presidential campaign.” The board stated it advised de Blasio about this prohibition before the launch of his campaign. De Blasio, the board wrote, “disregarded” the advice.

North Carolina – FBI Investigation Leads to NC Politician’s Campaign Finance Sentence in Federal Court

Yahoo News – Danielle Battaglia (Charlotte Observer) | Published: 6/20/2023

A federal judge sentenced Lynda Bennett to a year of probation and a $7,500 fine after prosecutors said she “thwarted the voting public’s ability to make informed decisions at the ballot box.” Bennett, a close family friend of former President Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, ran in 2020 to replace Meadows in Congress. Prosecutors said Bennett asked a relative for a $25,000 loan for her campaign, but since federal election laws cap primary-election donations from an individual at $2,800, she wrote the donation in her own name.

Ohio – Jury Finds Former Toledo Councilman Guilty on One of Two Bribery Charges

WTVG – Staff | Published: 6/15/2023

A jury found former Toledo City Councilperson Gary Johnson guilty on one bribery charge and not guilty on another. Prosecutors say he took a cash bribe and a check in exchange for votes on internet café zoning requests. Johnson testified he considered the $1,000 check given to him in January of 2020 to be a campaign contribution when he was running for Lucas County sheriff.

Oklahoma – Legislature’s Funding Scheme Handcuffs Ethics Commission Enforcement

Oklahoma Watch – Keaton Ross | Published: 6/20/2023

In recent years, a flood of outside money has poured into state political races amid a funding shortfall for the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. While the agency recently settled a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against an out-of-state group that improperly targeted state legislative candidates, the commission’s executive director said similar violations may go unchecked because of funding constraints.

Oregon – Oregon Senate Passes Bill Banning Politicians from Accepting More Than $100 a Year in Cash from One Donor

Willamette Week – Sophie Peel | Published: 6/15/2023

The Oregon Senate passed a bill that bans any candidate or committee from accepting more than $100 annually in cash from any one source. Republican lawmakers drafted the bill in response to reporting that said Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, co-founders of embattled cannabis chain La Mota, gave tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions to top Democrats in cash.

Pennsylvania – Pa. Lawmakers Ask for Investigations After Gaming Regulators Met Privately with Casino Lobbyists

Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 6/15/2023

Two state lawmakers asked for an investigation into media reports that top officials at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board met privately with casino lobbyists about a competitor and failed to disclose the meeting. Spotlight PA reported lobbyists for Parx Casino embarked on an effort to get the board to abandon its hands-off stance toward skill games, which are not regulated by the state. The skill games industry has become a prime target for some casino executives and their array of lobbyists, who argue the machines are illegal and should be banned.

Rhode Island – McKee Under Fire for Free Lunch with Lobbyist, Contractor Tied to Philly Trip

WPRI – Eli Sherman and Alexandra Leslie | Published: 6/21/2023

The Rhode Island Republican Party is calling on the state Ethics Commission to expand its investigation into state officials’ now-infamous interactions with a Philadelphia company after the revelation the contractor and its lobbyist treated Gov. Dan McKee to lunch in January. The GOP alleged McKee’s failure to pick up the $228 lunch tab at The Capital Grille in Providence violated the state’s ethics code, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts worth more than $25.

South Carolina – Legislators Fear S.C. Ethics Law ‘Blasted Wide Open’ After Judge Rules in Campaign Fundraising Lawsuit

WIS – Mary Green | Published: 6/19/2023

A recent court ruling could have a major effect on how much money can flow into South Carolina elections and the extent to which the public may know about it. Some lawmakers are calling it a victory for free speech and their abilities to have a voice in the political process, while others fear the ruling could have grave consequences. The judge’s order results from a lawsuit brought by the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline Republicans who have often been at odds with the larger House Republican Caucus.

Texas – Records Show Houston Council Member Michael Kubosh Spent Campaign Money on Birthdays, Vacation Expenses

KHOU – Jeremy Rogalski | Published: 6/19/2023

The announcement that Houston City Councilperson Michael Kubosh is dropping out of the race for city controller comes after reporters began asking Kubosh about questionable campaign finance expenses. KHOU told him it reviewed nearly 1,700 pages of his campaign finance reports and cross-referenced those with social media posts made by Kubosh and his family members. The analysis reveals thousands of dollars of expenses that appear for personal use, which is not allowed under Texas Ethics Commission rules.

Texas – Dallas Has New Ethics Rules, Adds Misdemeanor for Leaking City Information

MSN – Everton Bailey Jr. (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 6/15/2023

The Dallas City Council approved a series of changes to the ethics code, including lowering the standard of proof needed for the inspector general to prove an ethics violation occurred and making it a criminal offense for leaking confidential city information. It is the second time in three years the council has updated ethics rules. Five council members have admitted to or been convicted of crimes related to taking bribes or embezzling since 2000.

Texas – September Date Set for Texas Attorney General Impeachment Trial

MSN – Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2023

The Texas Senate voted to begin the historic impeachment trial of state Attorney General Ken Paxton on September 5, and it approved rules that bar Paxton’s wife from voting due to a conflict-of-interest. The House impeached Paxton over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office, and abuse of public trust, temporarily forcing him from office pending the Senate trial that could lead to his permanent ouster.

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