News You Can Use Digest - June 28, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

June 28, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 28, 2024


Judge Skeptical About Request to Limit Trump Statements on F.B.I.

DNyuz – Alan Feuer and Eileen Sullivan (New York Times) | Published: 6/24/2024

The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case posed tough questions to prosecutors who have asked her to bar him from making inflammatory statements that might endanger any FBI agents involved in the case. At a contentious hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon seemed disinclined to impose new conditions on Trump that would limit what he could say about the FBI.

The Ballot Measures Aim to Reduce Partisanship. Can They Fix American Politics?

DNyuz – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 6/25/2024

Americans of both parties routinely express deep concern about the state of the country’s democracy. This fall, many voters may have a chance to do something about it, by voting on state ballot measures related to the nuts and bolts of elections and governance. Eight states appear all but certain to field ballot measures that would either overhaul redistricting or rewrite election rules to discourage hyper-partisanship and give voters a greater voice in choosing candidates.

Michael Flynn Has Turned His Trump-World Celebrity into a Family Business

DNyuz – David Fahrenthold and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 6/23/2024

Since leaving the Trump administration under an ethical cloud, Michael Flynn has converted his celebrity into a lucrative and sprawling family business. He and his relatives have marketed the retired general as a martyr, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a legal-defense fund and then pocketing leftover money. A New York Times investigation found Flynn family members had made at least $2.2 million monetizing his right-wing stardom in recent years, with more than half of that going to Flynn directly. The reporting also raised questions about whether a nonprofit properly disclosed its payments to Flynn’s relatives.

Masks Are Going from Mandated to Criminalized in Some States

MSN – Fenit Nirappil (Washington Post) | Published: 6/24/2024

State legislators and law enforcement are reinstating dormant laws that criminalize mask-wearing to penalize pro-Palestinian protesters who conceal their faces, raising concerns among covid-cautious Americans. Immunocompromised Americans and civil libertarians who have criticized mask bans as a cudgel against protesters of police shootings, economic inequality, and environmental injustice say the bans are being revived because covid is no longer treated as a public health emergency.

Ronny Jackson, Wesley Hunt Face Campaign Ethics Probes Over Private Club Membership

MSN – Matthew Choi (Texas Tribune) | Published: 6/24/2024

U.S. Reps. Ronny Jackson and Wesley Hunt are under investigation for using campaign funds for private club memberships in a potential violation of campaign finance rules, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics Federal rules allow campaign funds for specific events at private clubs, but not typically for membership or unlimited access.

Judge Cannon Skeptical of Trump Claim FBI Mishandled Mar-a-Lago Search

MSN – Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 6/25/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon signaled that Donald Trump’s legal team had not convinced her FBI agents offered false information to justify searching Mar-a-Lago, a potential blow to the former president’s efforts to disqualify key evidence in the classified documents case against him. Trump’s attorneys asked Cannon to grant what is known as a Franks hearing, a chance to show the government intentionally misled a magistrate judge when seeking a warrant to search for classified material at Trump’s Florida home and private club more than a year after he left office.

Supreme Court Wipes Out Anti-Corruption Law That Bars Officials from Taking Gifts for Past Favors

MSN – Charlie Savage (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 6/26/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the bribery conviction of James Snyder, the former mayor of Portage, Indiana, the latest in a series of decisions narrowing the scope of public corruption law. In their ruling, the court’s majority drew a distinction between bribery, which requires proof of an illegal deal, and a gratuity that can be a gift or a reward for a past favor. They said the officials may be charged and prosecuted for bribery, but not for simply taking money for past favors if there was no proof of an illicit deal.

Supreme Court Allows White House Contacts with Social Media Firms

MSN – Ann Marimow and Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 6/26/2026

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort to restrict White House officials and other federal employees from pressuring social media companies to remove posts from their platforms the government deems problematic, saying the challengers did not have legal standing to bring the case. The decision could have implications for efforts to combat foreign disinformation during a critical election year. The federal government largely halted its warnings to U.S. technology companies about foreign influence campaigns last year, after lower-court decisions that placed broad limits on such communications.

Robert Winnett Will Not Join Washington Post as Top Editor

MSN – Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson (New York Times) | Published: 6/21/2024

Robert Winnett, the editor selected to run The Washington Post, will not take up that position after reports raised questions about his ties to unethical news gathering practices in Britain. Winnett’s decision is the latest in a series of convulsions at The Post. Sally Buzbee, the paper’s executive editor, stunned the newsroom by abruptly resigning. That coincided with Lewis announcing a plan to drastically remake the newsroom. In the weeks since, numerous articles about Winnett and Lewis have raised questions about their journalistic ethics and past conduct.

Judge Cannon Asks about Attorney General Garland’s Oversight of Trump Trials

MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon pressed the special counsel team prosecuting Donald Trump to explain Attorney General Merrick Garland’s role in overseeing the classified-documents case and then criticized a lawyer on the team for being cagey with his response. The back-and-forth took place at the end of a four-hour hearing on Trump’s request to dismiss the case based on a widely disputed argument that special counsel Jack Smith was improperly appointed to lead the investigation.

Should Doctors in Congress Earn Money for Their Side Job?

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 6/20/2024

House rules and federal ethics laws make it difficult for members of Congress who are physicians from practicing medicine while they are legislators. Rep. Andy Harris is advocating language in the fiscal 2025 Legislative Branch spending bill that would clarify the right of medical professionals to work for compensation while in Congress — though they would still be beholden to an annual second-income cap. Despite concerns from Democrats that the carve-out could create potential conflicts-of-interest and benefits a small subset of members, the language was included in the bill that the Appropriations Committee advanced.

How America’s ‘Most Powerful Lobby’ Is Stifling Efforts to Reform Oil Well Cleanup in State After State

MSN – Mark Olade (ProPublica) | Published: 6/24/2024

Across the country, more than 2 million oil and gas wells sit unplugged. Many leak oil and toxic or explosive gasses but the money held in cleanup funds is many millions of dollars short of the projected costs. As regulators and legislators seek to require drillers to set aside more money for the work, they have invited oil companies and trade groups to help write the regulations. This dynamic, politically expedient in states where the industry wields tremendous influence, has combined with secretive drafting processes and millions of dollars of industry lobbying to weaken or defeat proposals in various states.

Judge in Trump Documents Case Rejected Suggestions to Step Aside

Yahoo News – Charlie Savage amd Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 6/20/2024

Shortly after Judge Aileen Cannon drew the assignment to oversee Donald Trump’s classified documents case, two more experienced colleagues on the federal bench in Florida urged her to pass it up and hand it off to another jurist, according to two people briefed on the conversations. But Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, wanted to keep the case and refused the judges’ entreaties. Her assignment drew attention because she has scant trial experience and had previously shown unusual favor to Trump by intervening in a way that helped him in the criminal investigation that led to his indictment, only to be reversed.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Leaked TC Energy Recording Prompts B.C. to Probe Claims of Outsized Lobbying Influence on Government

Yahoo News – Matt Simmons (Local Journalism Initiative) and Mike De Souza (The Narwhal) | Published: 6/26/2024

British Columbia Attorney General Niki Sharma asked a provincial watchdog to look into a series of bold claims about how an executive at a Canadian oil and gas company, who is a former New Democratic Party staffer, claimed the company had leveraged political connections to persuade the provincial government to significantly weaken its environmental policies. The executive, Liam Iliffe, began lobbying for TC Energy less than a year after leaving a senior strategic communications position in government.

Alabama – Alabama Town’s First Black Mayor, Who Had Been Locked Out of Office, Will Return Under Settlement

MSN – Associated Press | Published: 6/24/2024

Patrick Braxton will be recognized as mayor of the town of Newbern, Alabama, under the terms of an agreement to settle a lawsuit. It will end the dispute over control of the town government and pave the way for Braxton to take over as Newbern’s first Black mayor. Instead of holding elections for the past six decades, the sitting mayor appointed a successor, and that successor chose town council members. That resulted in an overwhelmingly white government in a town where Black residents outnumber white residents by a two-to-one margin.

Alaska – State Judge Upholds Most Fines Against Group Seeking Repeal of Alaska Ranked Choice Voting

Alaska Beacon – James Brooks | Published: 6/21/2024

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Laura Hartz ruled opponents of Alaska’s ranked choice election system violated state campaign finance laws in their effort to gather signatures for a repeal ballot measure. Hartz upheld almost all fines issued by the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) and concluded the state’s disclosure laws apply to ballot measures. APOC had issued more than $94,000 in fines in the case.

Arizona – Judge Disqualifies Himself from Lawsuit Challenging Ballot Measure on Judicial Retention

Arizona Capitol Times – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 6/25/2024

A judge recused himself from deciding the legality of a ballot measure that would give him and his colleagues lifetime appointments. But the move leaves unanswered who is qualified to hear the case. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner stepped away after noting the lawsuit involves a bid by lawmakers to scrap the 50-year-old system that requires judges appointed by the governor to have to stand for reelection on a regular basis. All judges in the state’s largest counties are part of that same retain-reject system of elections. That means each of them is in the same position as Warner, with the same stake in the outcome of the case.

Arizona – Maricopa County Didn’t Enforce Campaign Finance Laws. Now, Political Groups Owe Millions

MSN – Sasha Hupka (Arizona Republic) | Published: 6/24/2024

For at least four election cycles, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office chose not to refer groups that had long failed to file reports or pay late fees to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for prosecution. That policy complies with state law. But some groups with large fines have not turned in the required paperwork in years, robbing county residents of vital and legally required information. Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said county election officials’ decision not to enforce campaign finance rules was “a dereliction.”

California – FBI Raid of Oakland Mayor Rocks City, Fuels Questions Over Family’s Political Influence

Yahoo News – Salvador Hernandez and Ruben Vives (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 6/22/2024

FBI agents raided the home of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, casting a renewed spotlight on a years-long probe into the political influence, and campaign finance machinations, of one prominent local family. For five years, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission have been investigating allegations that executives at California Waste Solutions, namely members of the Duong family, used “straw donors” to circumvent donation limits and fill the campaign coffers of public officials.

Colorado – Capitol’s Alcohol Culture Under Scrutiny in Sen. Faith Winter’s Ethics Investigation

Colorado Politics – Marissa Ventrelli | Published: 6/23/2024

Friends and colleagues of Colorado Sen. Faith Winter argued a culture that normalizes alcoholism at the state Capitol is a contributing factor to her behavior at a Northglenn City Council meeting in April, which is now the subject of an ethics complaint. The city council had alleged Winter failed to uphold her official duties as a lawmaker when she attended the April meeting while appearing intoxicated. The Senate Committee on Ethics decided to investigate whether Winter violated the chamber’s ethics rules.

Florida – Government Watchdogs Will Lose Some Ethics Oversight Powers Under Bill DeSantis Signed

MSN – Ana Ceballos (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/21/2024

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly approved new restrictions on how watchdog commissions can investigate state and local officials for suspected public corruption and ethical violations, even as local officials say the move will likely result in less government oversight. Under the new law, state and local ethics panels will be allowed to investigate complaints against public officials only if someone with personal knowledge “other than hearsay” is willing to identify themselves by name and file a complaint under oath about suspected wrongdoing.

Illinois – Former Illinois Lawmaker Gets a Year in Prison for Cheating on Her Taxes

Chicago Sun-Times – Jon Seidel | Published: 6/21/2024

A federal judge sentenced former Illinois Sen. Annazette Collins to a year in prison for cheating on her taxes in a case with ties to the same investigation that snared indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan. Prosecutors say she ultimately dodged more than $150,000 in taxes. The case revolved around Collins’ work with her lobbying firm, Kourtnie Nicole Corp., following her years in the Legislature.

Illinois – Ex-Ald. Ed Burke Hit with 2-Year Prison Sentence: ‘I regret the pain and sorrow I have caused’

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 6/24/2024

A federal judge sentenced former Ald. Edward Burke, the longest-serving city council member in Chicago history, to two years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering, bribery, and extortion. Burke used his powerful position to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm. His trial included testimony from three dozen witnesses and 100 recordings made as part of a court-authorized wiretap and undercover efforts by former Ald. Danny Solis.

Maryland – Former Pr. George’s Councilman Mel Franklin Charged with Embezzlement

MSN – Katie Mettler, Latesha Beachum, and Jasmine Hulton (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2024

Former Prince George’s County Councilperson Jamel Franklin was charged in a felony theft scheme in which authorities say he embezzled at least $130,000 of his campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including rent, loans, and cosmetic procedures for himself and a close friend. The charges come less than a week after Franklin abruptly resigned his seat as an at-large member of the council, a body he served on for nearly 14 years.

Michigan – Senate Symbolically Lets the Sunshine in as FOIA Reform Bills Advance to the House

Michigan Advance – Kyle Davidson | Published: 6/27/2024

Members of the Michigan Senate voted to advance an effort to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senate Bills 669 and 670 would expand FOIA to include the governor’s office and the Legislature, both of which are exempt under the current law. Michigan was previously ranked last among the states for government integrity. In a report from the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan failed in 10 out of 13 categories including public access to information, executive accountability, and legislative accountability.

Nevada – Commissioners Hit with Ethics Complaints for Attending Las Vegas Grand Prix

Las Vegas Review-Journal – Taylor Avery | Published: 6/25/2024

At least four Clark County commissioners are being investigated by the state ethics board for accepting tickets to last year’s Las Vegas Grand Prix. Commissioners Tick Segerblom, Ross Miller, Justin Jones, and Jim Gibson confirmed they had received a notice of the investigation from the Nevada Commission on Ethics. All the commissioners who attended the race disclosed the tickets on their financial disclosure reports except Segerblom. He filed an amended report to include the ticket, listing it under a section for reporting meetings, events, or trips.

Nevada – Nevada Judge Dismisses Case Against Trump Electors, Citing Jurisdiction

MSN – Nicole Markus and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 6/21/2024

A Nevada judge dismissed the case against six Republicans who submitted certificates falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election. Clark County District Court Judge Mary Kay Holthus ruled the state should have filed the case in another county. Prosecutors said they would appeal her decision.

New Jersey – Norcross Indictment Shows How NJ Looks the Other Way on Conflicts of Interest, Ethics Expert Says

Gothamist – Nancy Solomon | Published: 6/21/2024

New Jersey’s attorney general indicted Democratic Party boss George Norcross, former Camden Mayor Dana Redd, Norcross’s brother Philip, attorney Bill Tambussi, and two business partners on corruption charges. The inclusion of Tambussi, who is the Norcross brothers’ longtime personal attorney and represents dozens of government entities, highlights what ethics experts say is a serious shortcoming in the state’s ability to flag and deal with conflicts-of-interest as he was able to represent clients on different sides of a transaction for many years.

New Jersey – Radio Host Bill Spadea Attacks ‘Extralegal’ Push to Review Campaign Benefit of His Show

New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 6/25/2024

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Spadea is arguing in a new campaign filing that his weekday radio show does not amount to an impermissible in-kind contribution to his campaign because it does not include direct appeals for his election. His two primary opponents are taking the opposite position, claiming the platform afforded to Spadea by the radio station amounts to aid well above the New Jersey’s campaign contribution limits.

New Mexico – Ethics Commission Asks Judge to Force Disclosure from Dark Money Group

New Mexico In Depth – Marjorie Childress | Published: 6/26/2024

The New Mexico State Ethics Commission is putting pressure on a “dark money” political group to comply with disclosure laws. The new group made a splash in April when it began airing radio ads, and its founder, Jeff Apodaca, promoted its political agenda on local radio shows. But unlike other political groups, the New Mexico Project did not disclose who contributed to the organization, or how it was spending the money. In a court filing, the commission laid out its case the group meets the criteria for registering as a political committee.

New York – Judge Partially Lifts Trump Hush Money Gag Order

MSN – Luc Cohen (Reuters) | Published: 6/25/2024

A New York judge partially lifted a gag order on Donald Trump following the former president’s conviction on criminal charges stemming from an effort to influence the 2016 election by buying the silence of a woman who slept with Trump. The revised order now allows Trump to speak publicly about witnesses in and eases a prohibition on his commenting about the jury but keeps in place restrictions on his statements about individual prosecutors and others involved in the case.

North Carolina – North Carolina Governor Vetoes Masks Bill Largely Because of Provision About Campaign Finance

MSN – Makiya Seminera (Associated Press) | Published: 6/21/2024

Despite changes made to North Carolina’s masking bill to quell concerns over the removal of a pandemic-era health exception Gov. Roy Cooper said he vetoed the legislation mostly for a different reason – a campaign finance provision tacked on during legislative negotiations. The clause would allow wealthy donors to give money to special federal political organizations that can then send the money to state and county parties.

Ohio – Judge Blocks Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens’ Access to GOP Campaign Cash, Gives Control to Opponents

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 6/21/2024

A judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing Speaker Jason Stephens from spending money from the Ohio House Republicans’ campaign fund, amid an ongoing political battle with opponents from within his own party, and instead hands control to his opponents within the GOP caucus. It could complicate the ability of the dozen or so GOP candidates running in competitive races this fall to get financial assistance from the Ohio House Republican Alliance, which traditionally spends millions of dollars every election year.

Oregon – Former Oregon Officials Will Pay $2,000 Each to Settle Ethics Complaint Over Amazon Deals

MSN – Mike Rogoway (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 6/26/2024

Three former public officials in Morrow County will each pay $2,000 to settle a state ethics complaint over their dealings with Amazon. Investigators say the officials sometimes failed to acknowledge they might benefit personally when they voted to award tax breaks to Amazon data centers and sell land to the company. Each held a stake in the fiber-optic company Windwave Communications that provides connections for Amazon. The company said it had no indication investigators were looking at Amazon in connection with its tax breaks and Windwave contracts.

Oregon – Portland Weighs Tweaking Public Campaign Finance Program to Allow Larger Donations

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Alex Zielinski | Published: 6/24/2024

Less than five months from a historic election, Portland may tweak campaign finance rules to stretch the city’s cash-strapped public financing program. City candidates were emailed a survey asking whether the Small Donor Elections program should loosen its rules around the amount and type of in-kind donations nonprofits and other political organizations can give candidates. The proposal has drawn both praise and alarm from those involved in city campaigns.

Texas – Former Houston Development Official and 2 Vendors Face Charges in $8.5M Public Funds Scheme

MSN – Mike Morris (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 6/21/2024

A former Midtown Redevelopment Authority official and two vendors are facing felony corruption charges, accused of misusing some $8.5 million in public funds meant to build affordable housing in Houston. Charged in the case are Todd Edwards, the agency’s former real estate manager, along with vendors Veronica Ugorji and Kenneth Jones. Midtown has spent millions of tax dollars acquiring almost 500 lots in the city. It took neighborhood residents years of digging to discover Midtown paid a company Edwards himself formed $2.1 million from 2011 to 2020.

Texas – U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Texas Woman Who Claims She Was Arrested Out of Political Retribution

MSN – Isaac Yu (Texas Tribune) | Published: 6/21/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court revived the civil rights claim of a Texas woman who had sued her city for what she claims was a politically motivated arrest. The ruling gives plaintiff Sylvia Gonzalez another chance to pursue her retaliation claim against the San Antonio suburb of Castle Hills. Gonzalez was arrested in 2019 for allegedly stealing a government document soon after taking office as city council member.

Vermont – Vermont to Pay $175,000 After Man Charged for Raising Middle Finger at State Trooper

MSN – Victoria Bisett (Washington Post) | Published: 6/27/2024

The state of Vermont agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit filed after a man was charged with a crime for raising his middle finger at a state trooper. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the man, accused state trooper Jay Riggen of subjecting Gregory Bombard to an “unnecessary traffic stop and retaliatory arrest” that violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Vermont – To Fund Lawsuit Over Education Secretary, Senators Sought Donations – Ethan Weinstein | Published: 6/24/2024

Two state senators announced they were suing Vermont Gov. Phil Scott over his appointment of interim Education Secretary Zoie Saunders. Sens. Tanya Vyhovsky and Dick McCormack said they raised more than $11,000 to fund the lawsuit, but they declined to release the donors’ names. The unusual practice of raising funds to support the lawmakers’ lawsuit against Scott, and the reluctance to identify the donors, is a murky area not addressed in the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.

Wisconsin – Former Deputy to Tearman Spencer Charged with Failing to Disclose Private Law Firm

MSN – Daniel Bice and Alison Dirr (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 6/27/2024

The top deputy of former Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer has been criminally charged, accused of falsifying financial disclosure forms by failing to disclose ownership of his private law firm while he was representing the city. Odalo Ohiku’s private firm had a criminal defense practice, the complaint notes, meaning it could have been handling cases critical of the Milwaukee Police Department, which lawyers in the city attorney’s office are responsible for defending against charges of illegal conduct.

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