June 25, 2021 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 25, 2021
A Family Affair: Children and other relatives of Biden aides get administration jobs
MSN – Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 6/17/2021
President Biden promised that no member of his family would be a part of his administration. But that vow did not extend to his senior staff and their relatives. In the first few months of Biden’s presidency, at least five children of his top aides have secured jobs in the administration. The pattern has drawn concerns from ethics experts, diversity advocates, and others. They say it is disappointing that Biden did not shift even further from the practices of Donald Trump’s presidency, which they felt reeked of nepotism and cronyism.
Capitol Rioter Used Charity to Promote Violence, Feds Say
MSN – Michael Kunzelman (Associated Press) | Published: 6/17/2021
Alan Hostetter used his tax-exempt nonprofit as a platform to oppose COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, protest that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump, and advocate for violence against political opponents, according to a federal indictment. He is charged with conspiracy in the January 6 insurrection, and could be in violation of IRS rules governing nonprofits. The IRS prohibits charities like Hostetter’s from participating in any campaign activity for or against candidates. In his application for tax-exempt status, Hostetter said American Phoenix Project would not directly or indirectly engage in political campaigns.
Federal Judge Tosses Most Claims Against Trump, Barr and U.S. Officials in Clearing of Lafayette Square
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2021
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich dismissed most claims filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and others in lawsuits that accused the Trump administration of authorizing an unprovoked attack on demonstrators in Lafayette Square last year. The plaintiffs asserted the government used unnecessary force to enable a photo op of then-President Trump outside St John’s Church. But Friedrich called allegations that federal officials conspired to make way for the photo too speculative. The judge allowed litigation to go forward challenging restrictions on protests and other First Amendment activity at Lafayette Square.
Garland Tries to Untangle the Trump Legacy at the Justice Department
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2021
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is facing criticism from some Democrats that he is not doing enough to quickly expunge Trump-era policies and practices. On issues ranging from leak investigations to civil and criminal cases involving former President Trump, Garland has been beset by a chorus of congressional second-guessers, even as he insists that he is adhering to the principles of equal justice under the law. How he charts his way through the politically sensitive cases is likely to determine how much of a long-term impact the Trump presidency has on the Justice Department.
How Democrats Are ‘Unilaterally Disarming’ in the Redistricting Wars
Politico – Ally Mutnick | Published: 6/21/2021
In key states over the past decade, Democrats have gained control of Legislatures and governorships that have long been in charge of drawing new election maps, only to cede that authority, often to independent commissions tasked with drawing political boundaries free of partisan interference. Supporters of these initiatives say it is good governance to bar politicians from drawing districts for themselves and their party. But exasperated Democrats counter that it left them hamstrung in the battle to hold the U.S. House by diluting or negating their ability to gerrymander in the way Republicans plan to do in many red states. With the House so closely divided, Democrats will need every advantage to cling to their majority in 2022.
In Sentencing Regretful Capitol Protester, Federal Judge Rebukes Republicans
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2021
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth castigated Republican lawmakers for downplaying the violence of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6, saying in handing down the first sentence to a charged defendant that those who break the law must pay a penalty. Lamberth credited Anna Morgan-Lloyd for her early cooperation and admission of guilt, expressing frustration with both defendants and observers who argue the riot was merely a political protest. He sentenced her to three years of probation.
Investors Press Firms on Donations as Political Spending Jumps
MSN – Laura Weiss (Roll Call) | Published: 6/24/2021
Democratic state treasurers and social issue-focused investment funds are pressing 82 corporations to be transparent about donations to candidates and causes as contributions resume after a pause in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. More than 125 groups managing over $1.5 trillion in invested assets recently wrote to board members who oversee political spending at some of the largest public corporations. The letter asks companies to provide public disclosure of the amount and recipient of every election-related expenditure, including those made through PACs and third-party groups such as trade associations.
PAC Sues FEC for Dismissing Complaint Against Trump Campaign
Courthouse News Service – Samantha Hawkins | Published: 6/21/2021
A PAC filed a lawsuit against the FEC for dismissing its complaint alleging Donald Trump campaign coordinated with a super PAC that ended up raising $150 million during the 2020 election. End Citizens United says the Trump campaign solicited and directed donations to America First Action and allege the super PAC was the only outside, non-campaign group “approved” by Trump or the Republican National Committee to donate to. FEC regulations prohibit campaigns from soliciting contributions to super PACs without taking measures to ensure the donations comply with federal contribution limits.
Republican House Campaign Arm Says It Will Begin Soliciting Cryptocurrency Donations
MSN – Max Greenwood (The Hill) | Published: 6/17/2021
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) will begin soliciting cryptocurrency donations, making it the first national party committee to do so. It will process cryptocurrency contributions using the payment service BitPay. The procedure will allow the NRCC to effectively bypass the FEC’s $100 cap on transfers of cryptocurrency and accept donations of up to $10,000 per year from an individual.
Senate Republicans Block Debate on Elections Bill, Dealing Blow to Democrats’ Voting Rights Push
MSN – Mike DeBonis (Washington Post) | Published: 6/22/2021
Senate Republicans banded together to block a sweeping Democratic bill that would revamp the architecture of American democracy, dealing a grave blow to efforts to federally override dozens of GOP-passed state voting laws. Republicans have also taken aim at numerous other provisions in the Democratic legislation, including a proposal to publicly finance congressional campaigns, potential new disclosure requirements for political donors, and a realignment of the FEC meant to break partisan gridlock in enforcing election laws.
States Across the Country Are Dropping Barriers to Voting, Widening a Stark Geographic Divide in Ballot Access
MSN – Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2021
Newly enacted laws in more than half of the states expand access to the voting process on a number of fronts, such as offering additional early and mail voting options, protecting mail ballots from being improperly rejected, and making it easier to register to vote. The push to make voting easier comes as Republicans have embraced voting restrictions in GOP-controlled states. The overall result is a deepening divide in ballot access depending on where voters live, one shaped by how lawmakers have reacted to both the pandemic and former President Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was tainted by massive fraud.
Unmasking the Far Right: An extremist paid a price when his identity was exposed online after a violent clash in Washington
MSN – Robert Klemko (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2021
Journalist Laura Jedeed was filming a group of Trump supporters in the District of Columbia after the “Million MAGA March” last November when a man wearing an American flag mask approached her, stepped on her toes, and began yelling. “What’s up, you stupid b—-?” the man shouted as the mask slipped down. Jedeed uploaded video of the incident. The man in the mask was identified through social media and he lost his job. The disclosure online of Dawson’s personal information is part of an effort by left-wing activists to punish members of far-right groups accused of violent behavior by exposing them to their employers, family, and friends.
Whitehouse Bolsters Push to Shine Light on ‘Dark Money’ at Supreme Court
MSN – Todd Ruger (Roll Call) | Published: 6/23/2021
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has written reports and essays, introduced bills, filed briefs, gone on cable television, and made presentations at Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But he has not been as convincing as he hoped in his campaign to curb conservative anonymous donors and their influence on the high court, even as that “dark money” now floods in to support the judicial nomination process his party controls.
Canada – Jan Harder Resigns from Committee as Gloves Come Off at City Council
CBC – Joanne Chianello and Kate Porter | Published: 6/23/2021
Ottawa Councilor Jan Harder stepped down from her role as chair of the committee responsible for urban planning and development in the city, but that did not quell the acrimony surrounding the integrity commissioner’s report on her. The council was set to vote on sanctions recommended in a report by Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau, which found Harder created a perceived conflict-of-interest by hiring registered lobbyist Jack Stirling and his daughter to work for her office, while Stirling represented private planning clients at City Hall and even personally represented them at the committee Harder chaired.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – APOC Fines Former GOP Alaska Rep. Pruitt for ‘Widespread, Serious’ Campaign Finance Violations
Alaska Public Media – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 6/23/2021
The Alaska Public Offices Commission imposed a $20,000 fine on former state Rep. Lance Pruitt, saying he broke multiple laws with vague and sloppy reporting, banned contributions, and late reimbursements to himself. Pruitt said his errors were unintentional. “In hindsight, I wish I would’ve hired someone to do my reports instead of trying to balance that and a campaign by myself,” Pruitt said.
Arizona – State Senate Wants to Investigate If Social Media Platforms Are Violating Campaign Finance Laws
Pinal Central – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 6/23/2021
The Arizona Senate voted to spend $500,000 to investigate the practices of social media platforms and search engines to see if they are violating campaign finance laws. The Unreported In-Kind Political Contributions Task Force Fund is charged with investigating whether and to what extent the practices of social media platforms and internet search engines effectively become in-kind political contributions to a candidate, meaning the donation of some service with financial value,
California – Curb Nonprofit Donations? Republicans Running in Newsom Recall Say It Would Reduce Conflicts
MSN – Sophia Bollag (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 6/17/2021
About a dozen companies lobbying to influence state policy have given more than $800,000 to a nonprofit founded by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsome. She has been paid more than $2.3 million by the nonprofit for her work leading the organization and creating documentary films. Now, two Republicans running to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom are calling for new laws curbing such donations, arguing companies trying to influence state policy should not contribute to nonprofits that employ elected officials’ family members.
California – Elections Officials Alarmed by Democrats’Plans to Change Newsom Recall Rules
MSN – John Myers (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 6/17/2021
Elections officials across California said the proposed rules written by Democratic state lawmakers for the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom could push the event’s cost far beyond the current estimate of $215 million, creating voter confusion and delaying the counting of ballots. Local officials began sounding the alarm soon after Democrats unveiled new legislation allowing the recall to be held as early as August 24. The proposal would shorten the timeline by up to two months by eliminating the existing requirement of a lengthy analysis of the election’s costs.
Florida – In Push Against ‘Indoctrination,’ DeSantis Mandates Surveys of Florida Students’ Beliefs
MSN – Caroline Anders (Washington Post) | Published: 6/24/2021
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is concerned about the free flow of ideas on campus and whether higher education stifles free speech from conservatives. Under a law that will take effect July 1, public universities must assess “viewpoint diversity” on campus each year through a survey from the State Board of Education. The law does not address penalties for schools where the survey finds low levels of “intellectual freedom” and “viewpoint diversity,” but DeSantis hinted at the potential for budget cuts at universities that do not pass muster. Public universities in the U.S. are already bound by the First Amendment and cannot discriminate against viewpoints.
Florida – In Secret Recording, Florida Republican Threatens to Send Russian-Ukrainian ‘Hit Squad’ After Rival
MSN – Marc Caputo (Politico) | Published: 6/17/2021
A little-known Republican candidate in one of Florida’s most competitive congressional seats was secretly recorded threatening to send “a Russian and Ukrainian hit squad” to a fellow GOP opponent to make her “disappear.” During a call with a conservative activist that was recorded before he became a candidate, William Braddock repeatedly warned the activist to not support Anna Paulina Luna in the Republican primary for a Tampa Bay-area congressional seat because he had access to assassins.
Florida – Top Florida Political Players Scrutinized in Artiles Case Ahead of August Trial
Miami Herald – Samantha Gross and Ana Ceballos | Published: 6/23/2021
A public corruption investigation that took root in a single Miami-Dade legislative race has roped in prominent players across Florida over the last several months, including a GOP-linked research firm, a top not-for-profit hospital network, and a veteran Republican operative who leads a Tallahassee-based political organization. A judge announced the trial would begin August 30. Records obtained by the Miami Herald show that since at least April, investigators have been issuing subpoenas to gather information from an array of people and organizations and financial records that go back several years.
Indiana – 2 More Plea Deals Reached in Muncie Corruption Case; Nichols Is Final Defendant
MSN – Douglas Walker (Muncie Star Press) | Published: 6/22/2021
Two more defendants facing criminal charges stemming from the federal investigation of corruption in former Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler’s administration signed plea agreements. Only one of the nine defendants charged in the years-long corruption probe remains scheduled to stand trial on related charges. Plea agreements were entered in the cases of contractor Tony Franklin and businessperson Jeffrey Burke. Franklin is accused of conspiring to steer Muncie Sanitary District contracts to his business in exchange for “cash bribes and kickbacks.”
Louisiana – Louisiana Governor Agrees to Remove PAC Limits for Campaigns
MSN – Associated Press | Published: 6/22/2021
Candidates for office in Louisiana will soon be able to take unlimited sums directly from PACs under a bill signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The removal of limits on donations that come largely from special interest groups will take effect August 1. Edwards signed the legislation despite opposition from the state Board of Ethics.
Maine – Maine Campaign Finance Regulator Hides Public Meeting during Investigation of Anti-Corridor Group
Maine Public – Steve Mistler | Published: 6/18/2021
Maine’s ethics commission removed the video and livestream of a public proceeding after a commissioner mentioned the name of a person or business entity the campaign finance regulator is investigating. The unusual move came at the request of Stop the Corridor, a political group that opposes Central Maine Power’s controversial transmission project. The meeting was called because Stop the Corridor is protesting the commission’s subpoena for records. The majority of both meetings have been held in executive session, a closed-door proceeding the commission uses to discuss information that it has agreed to keep confidential in investigations.
Missouri – St. Louis Gun-Waving Couple Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanors
Politico – Associated Press | Published: 6/17/2021
A St. Louis couple who gained notoriety for pointing guns at social justice demonstrators last year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and agreed to give up the weapons they used during the confrontation. Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000. Her husband, Mark McCloskey, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was fined $750. They claimed the protesters were trespassing and they feared for their safety. Mark McCloskey has announced he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri.
Montana – Lawmakers Abandon Investigative Subpoenas for Judges’ Records
Ravalli Republic – Seaborn Larson (Helena Independent Record) | Published: 6/22/2021
A legislative committee investigating the judicial branch withdrew its subpoenas for Montana Supreme Court records. There had been an escalating confrontation between Republican lawmakers and the judiciary over claims of improper use of state resources, lobbying efforts by judges, and failure to retain public records. The subpoenas were challenged in court as an overreach of the Legislature’s constitutional authority by Supreme Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin, whose own emails had been subpoenaed by the committee.
New Jersey – N.J. Wants to Protect Women on the Campaign Trail, but Sexual Harassment Bill Is Mired in Politics, Critics Say
MSN – Susan Livio and Kelly Heyboer (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 6/17/2021
A bill that would make New Jersey one of the first states in the nation to outlaw sexual harassment in political campaigns is back under consideration in Trenton three months after sponsors pulled it amid disagreements over what it should say. Advocates say the legislation is needed in state and local campaigns where sexual misconduct often goes unreported and there are no human resources departments for campaign workers and candidates to turn to if they are sexually harassed. The heart of the bill calls for spending $2 million to create the Office on Discrimination and Harassment Prevention inside the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
New York – Adams Leads in N.Y.C. Mayoral Primary, but Ranked-Choice Awaits
MSN – Katie Glueck (New York Times) | Published: 6/23/2021
Eric Adams, who ran for mayor of New York City on a message focused on issues of public safety, emerged with a substantial lead in the Democratic primary, but fell short of outright victory in a race that will now usher in a new period of uncertainty. Because Adams seemed unlikely to earn more than 50 percent of the vote, the contest will be decided under New York’s new ranked-choice voting system. It may take until mid-July before a Democratic primary victor, who would become an overwhelming favorite to win the general election, is officially declared.
New York – Councilman Defeats Indicted Rochester Mayor in Dem. Primary
Star Herald – Carolyn Thompson and Deepti Hajela (Associated Press) | Published: 6/22/2021
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who ran for a third term while under indictment in a campaign finance case, was defeated in the Democratic primary by city Councilperson Malik Evans. There is no Republican challenger on the November ballot. Warren started to face calls for her resignation last summer amid protests over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was pressed to the pavement by a group of police officers until he stopped breathing. In October, she was indicted on charges she schemed to evade campaign contribution limits. In May, Warren’s husband was charged with being part of a drug trafficking ring.
New York – India Walton, Self-Identified Socialist, Scores Upset Victory in Buffalo Mayoral Primary
MSN – David Weigel (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2021
Buffalo Democrats nominated a self-identified socialist as their candidate for mayor, as nurse and activist India Walton scored an upset victory over four-term incumbent Byron Brown in the June 22 primary. Republicans have not fielded a candidate for mayor and have not won City Hall in Buffalo since the 1960s, making the Democratic primary winner all but certain to take office in January. Walton identified as a socialist inside the Democratic Party, and she saw her campaign as a way to dispel worries about the label and its ideological goals.
New York – Trump and His CFO Allen Weisselberg Stay Close as Prosecutors Advance Their Case
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell, Shayna Jacobs, David Fahrenthold, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2021
As chief financial officer at Donald Trump’s private company, Allen Weisselberg is a key figure in prosecutors’ efforts to indict the former president, legal experts say. His central role in nearly every aspect of Trump’s business afforded him a singular view of the Trump Organization’s tax liabilities and finances. Although that role allowed him to stay behind the scenes, it may place him front and center in what would be an unprecedented prosecution of a former president. Officials involved in the Weisselberg investigation have grown frustrated about what they view as a lack of cooperation from him and believe he continues to regularly speak with Trump.
North Carolina – McCrae Dowless Pleads Guilty to Financial Crimes Related to 2018 Election Fraud Scandal
MSN – Will Doran (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 6/21/2021
McCrae Dowless pleaded guilty in federal court to two crimes stemming from the investigation into the absentee ballot fraud scheme he is accused of running in North Carolina. He pleaded guilty to two of the four charges he faced related to Social Security disability fraud. There is a separate state-level court case dealing with the election fraud accusations. The disability fraud charges came as part of an investigation into Dowless for allegedly running an absentee ballot scheme in which he and some assistants would collect people’s ballots and, in some cases, fraudulently sign them or even fill in votes for races that the voters had left blank, officials say.
Ohio – Ohio House Panel Advances Bill Allowing Officials Accused of Corruption to Choose Where Their Trial Is Held
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 6/22/2021
Republican-backed legislation to allow Ohio politicians accused of corruption to be tried in their home counties rather than Columbus cleared the House Civil Justice Committee. House Bill 286 would remove the Franklin County prosecutor’s exclusive authority to try state public corruption cases. The measure comes just months after a Democrat was elected to the position for the first time in nearly 60 years. The vote was held days after the House expelled former Speaker Larry Householder, who is facing a federal charge of overseeing a $60 million bribery scheme to pass legislation.
Ohio – Ohio Lobbyists Get Keycard Access to Capitol, State Buildings
Ohio Capital Journal – Jake Zuckerman | Published: 6/24/2021
The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board allows access cards to be issued to registered lobbyists, elected officials, legislative staff, and certain journalists, among others in Ohio. The cards enable someone to skip security lines at government buildings, access elevator bays, and enter the statehouse after hours. For lobbyists, facetime with policymakers is easier to come by in the public spaces than calling and setting a meeting. Other states have different approaches in giving lobbyists access.
Oregon – Lobbying Group Mike Nearman Invited into Oregon Capitol Eluded Disclosing Funding Sources for Years
MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 6/21/2021
Members of the Oregon Citizens Lobby were instructed on how enter the closed Capitol by state Rep. Mike Nearman, who was expelled from office for his actions that day. The group has generated a steady stream of lobbying-related training events and alerts over the last 10 years. It rallies its volunteers to press legislators to support or oppose bills. But Oregon Citizens Lobby has never registered to lobby, despite a state requirement for any entity that spends more than $100 on lobbying in any three-month period to disclose its total spending.
Pennsylvania – The Philly Ethics Board Fines PAC Formed by Retired Cops That Spent Big Against Krasner
WHYY – Ryan Briggs | Published: 6/17/2021
A PAC founded by former law enforcement officers, which backed Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s opponent in the May Primary, was fined for violating the city’s campaign finance law. Protect Our Police PAC, which poured money into Krasner challenger Carlos Vega’s campaign, missed filing deadlines on seven campaign finance reports and will pay a $12,000 fine. The city’s law requires PACs to disclose revenues, debts, and expenditures that influence the outcome of an election.
Rhode Island – Sen. Whitehouse, Under Scrutiny for Family Ties to Exclusive Beach Club, Says It Has Non-White Members
MSN – Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2021
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who has come under scrutiny over his family’s ties to an exclusive beach club, said he checked and there is a “diversity in membership” with non-White members. Still, Whitehouse said, the attention to the issue made him reevaluate his other affiliations, and he found that a sailing club in Newport, Rhode Island, that he belongs to, which he did not name, is not diverse.
South Carolina – Uncovered: Some S.C. public officials got caught doing the wrong thing – with little or no consequences
Times and Democrat – Tony Bartelme (Charleston Post and Courier) | Published: 6/23/2021
An investigation by The Charleston Post and Courier found more than 1,100 educators, law enforcement officers, judges, and state employees in South Carolina violated ethics rules since 2018. These cases represent a gray zone of ethical breaches, cases that often do not make headlines. They can be found in the files of South Carolina’s many self-policing boards and panels, agencies such as the state Criminal Justice Academy, Department of Education, and Ethics Commission.
Washington DC – At Senate Committee, D.C. Statehood Is Debated Anew
MSN – Meagan Flynn (Washington Post) | Published: 6/22/2021
Proponents of statehood for the District of Columbia sought to counter arguments the idea is unconstitutional, urging a U.S. Senate committee to fulfill America’s founding principle of no taxation without representation in the nation’s capital. It was the first Senate committee hearing on statehood since 2014. The committee did not bring up the bill for a vote that year, but advocates are optimistic it may get one this year, even as the bill’s prospects are low in the full Senate.
Wisconsin – GOP Redistricting Put Fitzgerald Brothers – Who Live 13 Miles Apart – in Different Congressional Districts
La Crosse Tribune – Peter Cameron (The Badger Project) | Published: 6/20/2021
When Republican map-drawing in 2011 cemented the party’s dominance in the Wisconsin Legislature for the following decade, it also did something a bit more personal. Despite living very close to one another, the homes of Scott Fitzgerald, then the state Senate majority leader, and his younger brother Jeff Fitzgerald, then the Assembly speaker, were split from the same congressional district into separate ones. This allowed both to potentially serve in Congress without having to run against each other.
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