News You Can Use Digest - June 30, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

June 30, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 30, 2023


How Judges Navigate Offers of Free Lunch, Trips and NBA Tickets

Bloomberg Law – Zoe Tillman (Bloomberg News) | Published: 6/25/2023

Recent controversies over perks accepted by Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have raised questions not only about the justices’ conduct off the bench and what they disclose to the public, but also about how the judiciary broadly enforces ethics. Eight current and former federal judges shared their insights into how the judiciary operates as well as their own experiences with ethics issues. Judges said they usually found the rules clear on what to report, what gifts to refuse, and when to step down from a case. But the judges admit there is a gray area as well.

The Attention Was All on Mar-a-Lago. Some of the Action Was at Bedminster

DNyuz – Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swain (New York Times) | Published: 6/27/2023

For all the attention focused during the investigation into Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents at his private club and residence in Florida, another of Trump’s properties has played a crucial, if quieter, role in the case: his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Bedminster, where Trump spends his summers, has turned out also to have been a focus of investigators and the scene of a central episode in Trump’s indictment: a meeting in which he was recorded showing off what he described as a “highly confidential” plan to attack Iran.

A.I.’s Use in Elections Sets Off a Scramble for Guardrails

DNyuz – Tiffany Hsu and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) | Published: 6/25/2023

What began a few months ago as a slow drip of fundraising emails and promotional images composed by A.I. for campaigns has turned into a steady stream of materials created by the technology, rewriting the playbook for elections. Political consultants, election researchers, and lawmakers say setting up new guardrails, such as legislation reining in synthetically generated ads, should be a priority. Existing defenses, such as social media rules and services that claim to detect A.I. content, have failed to do much to slow the tide. As the U.S. presidential race starts to heat up, some of the campaigns are already testing the technology.

Senate Panel Finds More Pre-Jan. 6 Intelligence Failures by FBI, DHS

MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 6/27/2023

A new Senate committee report sharply criticizes the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for what it says were failures to believe the intelligence tips they were receiving in the run-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, offering fresh examples of warnings and information that went unheeded. The document sheds new light on the many different types of warnings the FBI received from nongovernmental organizations tracking extremism online, from the public, and from its own field offices.

FEC Deadlocks on Whether to Govern Deepfake Campaign Ads

MSN – Daniela Altimari (Roll Call) | Published: 6/22/2023

The FEC deadlocked on a request to develop regulations for AI-generated deepfake political ads, meaning no action will be taken. Public Citizen submitted a petition asking the commission to establish rules, noting advances in artificial intelligence have given political operatives the tools to produce campaign ads with computer-generated fake images that appear real. Such ads could misrepresent a candidate’s political views, a violation of existing federal law.

Audio Undercuts Trump’s Assertion He Did Not Have Classified Document

Seattle Times – Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 6/26/2023

An audio recording of former President Trump in 2021 discussing what he called a “highly confidential” document about Iran he acknowledged he could not declassify because he was out of office appears to contradict his recent assertion the material that he was referring to was simply news clippings. Portions of a transcript of the two-minute recording were cited by federal prosecutors in the indictment of Trump on charges he had put national security secrets at risk by mishandling classified documents after leaving office and then obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them.

Watchdog Alleges Canadian Hedge Fund Gave Illegal Contributions to DeSantis Campaign

Yahoo News – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/28/2023

The Campaign Legal Center filed a second complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign, alleging a Canadian hedge fund made more than $167,000 in illegal contributions to his operation. The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits the contributions to U.S. elections and bans foreign nationals from participating in any decision-making process with regard to making a political donation.

Ethics Committee Expands Investigation into Santos

Yahoo News – Mychael Schnell (The Hill) | Published: 6/23/2023

The House ethics committee expanded its probe into U.S. Rep. George Santos, adding allegations he fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits to the list of investigative areas. Santos is also accused of misleading donors and misrepresenting his finances to the public and government agencies. The indictment accuses Santos of fraudulently receiving more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Legal Fees Mount, Trump Steers Donations into PAC That Has Covered Them

Yahoo News – Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 6/24/2023

Facing multiple intensifying investigations, former President Trump has begun diverting more of the money he is raising away from his 2024 presidential campaign and into a PAC he has used to pay his personal legal fees. The change raises fresh questions about how Trump is paying for his mounting legal bills, which could run into millions of dollars, as he prepares for at least two criminal trials, and whether his PAC, Save America, is facing a financial crunch.

The Super PAC Frenzy Redefining Campaign Operations

Yahoo News – Jessica Piper and Sally Goldenberg (Politico) | Published: 6/25/2023

Super PACs have been growing in strength for more than a decade, but this cycle are swimming in more money than ever. The groups are taking new approaches, deploying staffing at campaign events, paying for door-knocking operations, and even sending fundraising texts on candidates’ behalf. Some of the new strategies could test the legal limits on coordination between campaigns and super PACs, though campaign finance experts say the groups so far seem to be complying with how the FEC has interpreted the rules. But the greater on-the-ground presence of super PACs has not gone unnoticed.

Giuliani Sat for Voluntary Interview in Jan. 6 Investigation

Yahoo News – Ben Protess, Alan Feuer, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 6/28/2023

Rudolph Giuliani, who served as former President Trump’s personal lawyer, was interviewed by federal prosecutors investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The voluntary interview, which took place under what is known as a proffer agreement, was a significant development in the election interference investigation led by Jack Smith, the special counsel, and the latest indication that Smith and his team are actively seeking witnesses who might cooperate in the case.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Federal Lobbying Hit a Record High Last Fiscal Year, Industry Watchdog Says

CBC – Staff | Published: 6/27/2023

Lobbying hit an all-time high in Ottawa during the last fiscal year, says a new report from the industry’s watchdog. Under the law, lobbyists must report their oral and arranged communications with certain public office holders. Consultant lobbyists must also report any communications relating to the awarding of a federal contract. A new code of conduct for the industry will come into effect on July 1.

Alabama – Former Alabama Ethics Commission Director Says New Law Could Silence Whistleblowers

MSN – Mike Cason ( | Published: 6/25/2023

The former executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission said the loss of anonymity protection for people who file ethics complaints will result in fewer whistleblowers reporting what they believe are illegal acts. The bill passed by lawmakers requires the commission to tell a person under investigation who filed the complaint that sparked the probe. Legislators said public officials should know the identity of their accuser in an ethics investigation, just as they would in a criminal or civil trial.

Arizona – Kari Lake Accused of Defamation in Suit Filed by Arizona Election Official

MSN – Yvonne Winget Sanchez and Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 6/22/2023

A key election official in Arizona’s most populous county filed a defamation lawsuit on against Kari Lake, the former television newscaster who narrowly lost her 2022 race for governor and has falsely blamed widespread fraud and malfeasance in the months since. The lawsuit by Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, marks the most aggressive attempt to hold Lake and her allies accountable for election-related misinformation. It comes amid other efforts to make right-wing figures and media answerable for spreading election fabrications.

California – A Big Contract Went to a San Jose Private School Run by the Mayor’s Wife. Was It Competitive?

MSN – Gabriel Greschler (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 6/27/2023

A city contract worth nearly $1 million was awarded to a San Jose private high school run by Mayor Matt Mahan’s wife, with officials assuring it went through the routine competitive bidding process, though leaders at other schools say they were not aware of the opportunity. City officials insisted they performed the proper outreach to numerous schools so everyone had a fair chance. The private school, they contended, was the only one that applied for the funding for the work-study program at City Hall for high school students.

California – San Francisco’s Ex-Utilities Chief Accused of Shady Business Dealings on First Day of Corruption Trial

San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 6/27/2023

To some, Harlan Kelly was a corrupt San Francisco official who exploited his role overseeing one of California’s largest public utilities for personal gain, including a lavish vacation to China. To others, the former head of the city’s Public Utilities Commission was an exemplary public servant whose key mistake was trusting a shady businessperson who sought to corrupt him. Those are the two versions of Kelly that jurors heard as his federal corruption trial began. Which version the jury chooses to believe could hinge on their trust in Walter Wong, the businessperson who is expected to testify against Kelly.

District of Columbia – D.C. Council Majority Calls for 3rd-Party Investigation into Ex-Aide

MSN – Meagan Flynn and Michael Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2023

A majority of District of Columbia Council members called for a broader, independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Mayor Muriel Bowser’s former top adviser, John Falcicchio, following an investigation by Bowser’s legal office that substantiated some of the complaints a female employee made against him. Bowser faces mounting questions from lawmakers about whether it is sufficient for the investigative arm of the executive branch to investigate itself when a sexual harassment complaint is lodged against a mayoral appointee.

Florida – Former Broward Mayor Accused of Firing Staffer to Clear Developer for $102M Loan

MSN – Grethel Aguila (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/25/2023

A new report sheds more light into how a former Broward official allegedly bent the rules, and fired a staffer in the process, to help a developer secure $102 million in loans while in public office. Lynn Stoner, the former mayor of Plantation, was charged with official misconduct, falsification of records, and two counts of influencing a building official. If convicted, she faces up to eight years in prison.

Florida – DeSantis Agency Sent $92 Million in Covid Relief Funds to Donor-Backed Project

MSN – Michael Scherer, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/29/2023

The administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis steered $92 million last year in leftover federal coronavirus stimulus money to a controversial highway interchange project that directly benefits a top political donor. The decision by the state Department of Transportation to use money from the American Rescue Plan for an I-95 interchange near Daytona Beach fulfilled a years-long effort by Mori Hosseini, a politically connected housing developer who owns two large tracts of largely forested land abutting the planned interchange.

Illinois – Do You Believe in ‘Magic’ Lobbyists? Illinois Businesses Stick by Madigan-Connected Lobbyists.

WBEZ – Dave McKinney | Published: 6/23/2023

More than two dozen lobbyists were on a handwritten registry of “magic lobbyists” that former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s now-convicted aide, Michael McClain, memorialized on a sheet of hotel stationery. The list helped convict four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists of bribing Madigan to boost the power company’s legislative fortunes. Despite being publicly identified in the corruption case, none of the other “magic” lobbyists are facing charges due to that investigation and these lobbyists appear to have faced no employment fallout from the scandal.

Kentucky – Kentucky Attorney General Is Accused of Seeking Donations from Company His Office Is Investigating

Yahoo News – Bruce Schreiner (Associated Press) | Published: 6/26/2023

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron directly solicited donations for his gubernatorial campaign from executives of a Kentucky drug treatment organization that his office began investigating last year, according to an attorney for the Edgewater Recovery Centers. Several Edgewater executives later gave $7,600 to Cameron’s campaign, which has been refunded. But the solicitations and their timing have led to demands for an investigation from the campaign of Gov. Andy Beshear.

Louisiana – Supreme Court Clears Way for Redrawing of Louisiana Congressional Map

MSN – Melissa Quinn (CBS News) | Published: 6/26/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out a bid by Louisiana Republicans seeking to reverse a lower court ruling that ordered it to redraw its congressional map, paving the way for new voting lines to be drawn to include a second majority-Black congressional district before the 2024 election. The case had been put on hold while the Supreme Court weighed a similar challenge to Alabama’s congressional voting lines.

Maryland – National Climate Group Asks: Should Md. lobbying firms take fossil fuel clients?

Maryland Matters – Josh Kurtz | Published: 6/28/2023

A new advocacy group is pressing clean energy lobbyists in Maryland and at state Legislatures across the country to part ways with fossil fuel interests. In Maryland, scores of institutions, nonprofit groups, and even clean energy organizations use statehouse lobbyists who are also representing fossil fuels interests. Most Annapolis lobbying firms usually hire teams of politically savvy generalists, who tend to work a range of issues for a broad variety of clients.

Massachusetts – Galvin Pushes to Update Lobbying Laws

Eagle-Tribune – Christian Wade | Published: 6/23/2023

Secretary of State William Galvin wants to bar individuals convicted on federal charges from serving as state lobbyists for at least 10 years. A proposal in the Legislature would expand a state statute “automatically” disqualifying people convicted of certain state crimes from registering as lobbyists to include individuals convicted of federal offenses. The move comes in response to a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling that cleared former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to lobby the state Legislature and executive branch, despite his prior convictions on federal charges.

Massachusetts – Councilor Ricardo Arroyo Admits to Ethics Violation, Pays Penalty in Connection with Representing His Brother

MSN – Danny McDonald (Boston Globe) | Published: 6/27/2023

Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo admitted to a conflict-of-interest violation and paid a $3,000 penalty for continuing to represent his brother in a sexual harassment lawsuit after Arroyo became a member of the city council. The announcement from the state Ethics Commission is the latest controversy to enmesh Arroyo. One of his council colleagues suggested he consider resigning after two investigative reports found former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins improperly tried to influence last year’s primary election for Suffolk district attorney in Arroyo’s favor.

Mississippi – Mississippi Dems Not Reporting Campaign Spending, Could Face Ethics Penalties

Mississippi Free Press – Ashton Pittman | Published: 6/28/2023

The Mississippi Democratic Party could face fines and other penalties after failing to file periodic campaign finance reports. Unless the party takes action by June 30, the secretary of state’s office will turn the issue over to the Mississippi Ethics Commission. In emails, Democratic Party Executive Director Andre Wagner said the party did not have to file campaign finance reports because they had not engaged in spending that would necessitate reporting.

Missouri – Ethics Commission Fines Ex-St. Louis Candidate $6,000, Citing Campaign Violations

St Louis Post-Dispatch – Austin Huguelet | Published: 6/24/2023

The Missouri Ethics Commission fined one of last year’s candidates for president of the St. Louis City Council $6,000, citing a litany of campaign finance violations. The commission said entrepreneur Mark Kummer failed to report donations of more than $5,000 within 48 hours, neglected to itemize a raft of in-kind contributions worth more than $50,000, and never filed a key disclosure when he terminated a campaign committee.

Nebraska – Nebraska State Senator Sues Conservative Lobbying Group That Accused Her of Grooming

Courthouse News Service – Andrew Nelson | Published: 6/28/2023

Nebraska Sen. Megan Hunt is suing a conservative PAC for defamation after it called her a groomer on Twitter. The Nebraska Freedom Coalition’s Tweet included childhood photos of her now 13-year-old, transgender son. The group also published a tweet in which it described the lawmaker’s “skills” as “grooming children, including her own.” The tweets were published after Hunt shared that her son was transgender on the floor of the Legislature during a debate on a measure that would restrict gender-affirming care for those younger than 19.

Nevada – Analyst, Consultant, or Lobbyist?

Nevada Current – Dana Gentry | Published: 6/28/2023

When consultant Jeremy Aguero co-presented a bill to pump hundreds of millions of dollars of public money into a homeless facility in Las Vegas, he never disclosed working on the project for Wynn Resorts. When Aguero touted to state lawmakers the potential benefits of investing hundreds of millions of dollars to publicly subsidize a baseball stadium, he once again failed to disclose he was working for the Oakland A’s, the team hoping to profit from the venture. Despite his frequent presence at the Nevada Legislature, Aguero is not registered as a lobbyist, a process that would require him to publicly disclose his clients.

New York – Adams’ Confidante Frank Carone Inks Another Deal with Real Estate Big – Advocates Give It a Wary Eye

Yahoo News – Michael Gartland (New York Daily News) | Published: 6/26/2023

Mayor Adams’ former chief of staff, Frank Carone, signed a consulting deal with Related Companies, one of the biggest players in the city’s real estate sector, a development that has good-government advocates concerned about the potential for influence peddling. Carone, who worked as one of Adams’ top lieutenants for a year before leaving to launch his Oaktree Solutions consulting firm, remains close to the mayor and is serving as chairperson of his reelection campaign. Carone said the company retained his firm to provide “strategic advice and ideas.”

North Carolina – Supreme Court Rejects Theory That Would Have Meant Radical Changes to Election Rules

MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 6/28/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a legal theory that would have radically reshaped how federal elections are conducted by giving state Legislatures largely unchecked power to set rules for federal elections and to draw congressional maps distorted by partisan gerrymandering. Maintaining the status quo is seen as significant for a court that in recent years has constricted voting and election protections in federal law and the Constitution.

Ohio – Ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder Gets Maximum 20 Years in Prison for Largest Bribery Scandal in State History

Cleveland Plain Dealer – Adam Ferrise | Published: 6/29/2023

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the largest corruption scandal in state history. Jurors found Householder orchestrated a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by FirstEnergy to secure Householder’s power, elect his allies, pass legislation containing a $1 billion bailout for two aging nuclear power plants owned by a FirstEnergy affiliate, and then to use a dirty tricks campaign to stifle a ballot effort to overturn the bill.

Ohio – Ohio Froze an Ex-Utility Regulator’s $8 Million in Assets. Lawyers Disagree Over Whether It’s Legal.

MSN – Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 6/28/2023

Lawyers disagreed sharply in arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court over whether $8 million in assets belonging to the state’s former top utility regulator should have been frozen after he was caught up in a sweeping bribery investigation. Sam Randazzo resigned as chairperson of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after FBI agents searched his home, close on the heels of the arrest of then-House Speaker Larry Householder. He has not been charged in conjunction with the House Bill 6 scandal, which remains under investigation.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Lobbyist Spending Rebounds from Pandemic-Era Decline

Oklahoma Watch – Keaton Ross | Published: 6/26/2023

With COVID-19 concerns heightened, advocacy groups in Oklahoma scaled back large in-person gatherings during the 2021 legislative session. Expenditure reports show that sort of spending has rebounded. Lobbyists have spent nearly $380,000 this year on gifts, meals, and beverages for state legislators and other elected officials through May, a 42 person increase over the same period two years ago.

Oregon – Defying Pledges to Limit Campaign Contributions, Oregon Lawmakers Again Fail to Do So

MSN – Grant Stringer (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 6/22/2023

In a repeat of years past, state lawmakers ended the legislative session without tightening Oregon’s loose campaign finance laws, falling short on a key pledge to do so. Tony Lapiz, legislative director for Speaker Dan Rayfield, said lawmakers will continue to meet after the session with the goal of referring the issue to voters in 2024. Unlike the vast majority of states, Oregon law allows unlimited donations from corporations, unions, individuals, and other entities to candidates for governor, state offices, and the Legislature.

Oregon – Oregon Lawmakers Would Be Able to Remove the Governor Under a Measure Headed to Voters

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 6/26/2023

Oregon lawmakers would gain the ability to remove the governor and other statewide elected officials under a proposal lawmakers sent to voters. It will appear on the November 2024 ballot. Oregon is the only state where lawmakers do not have the power to impeach the governor. The proposal gained steam after a scandal that forced Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to resign in May.

Oregon – Voters Will Be Asked to Create Commission to Change Elected Leaders’ Salaries

Salem Statesman-Journal – Dianne Lugo | Published: 6/25/2023

Oregon voters will get to decide on the creation of an independent commission to make decisions about elected officials’ compensation. The bipartisan effort to address the issue came at the heels of the resignation of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. She faces ethical and criminal investigations after it was revealed she was being paid $10,000 a month by a cannabis company while her office was overseeing an audit of the cannabis industry. Fagan said accepted the contract because her salary as secretary of state was not enough to make ends meet.

Rhode Island – Ethics Panel Votes to Investigate R.I. Officials’ Conduct During Philly Trip, and Speaker Shekarchi

MSN – Edward Fitzpatrick (Boston Globe) | Published: 6/27/2023

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to launch an investigation into potential ethics violations by the two former state officials who were accused of “outrageous behavior” during a business trip to Philadelphia, and it will probe a separate allegation against House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi. Commission staff members initiated the complaint filed against David Patten and James Thorsen, the two former state officials who took a now-infamous trip to visit Scout Ltd., a Philadelphia company seeking to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory in Providence.

Rhode Island – Rhode Island Senator Arrested, Accused of Keying Car with Anti-Biden Bumper Sticker

MSN – Steph Machado (Boston Globe) | Published: 6/23/2023

State Sen. Josh Miller was arrested recently, accused of keying a car in a shopping center parking lot that was sporting a bumper sticker reading “Biden sucks.” Body-worn camera videos showed Miller initially denied keying the man’s car when stopped by police, but at his home later acknowledged he did so because he felt he was being threatened by the man. Miller said he has been stalked at the statehouse by “gun nuts” because he is the lead sponsor of a bill to ban assault-style weapons in Rhode Island.

Tennessee – Legislative Office Lawyers Say TN Records Laws Don’t Apply to Them in Lawsuit Over Ethics Docs

Tennessee Lookout – Adam Friedman | Published: 6/23/2023

Lawyers for the Tennessee legislative office believe the state’s public records do not apply to the legislative body, and it would violate the separation of government powers for a court to compel to release the documents related to their investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. Scotty Campbell. The case has the potential to widen the door on what records fall under the deliberative process privilege exemption, which Gov. Bill Lee has used to deny numerous public records’ request by journalists.

Texas – DeSantis’s Taxpayer-Funded Helicopter Ride in Texas Draws Scrutiny

DNyuz – Neil Vigdor and Nicholas Nehamas (New York Times) | Published: 6/28/2023

A photo op intended to turbocharge Republican voters, one showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis posing in front of a helicopter at the southern border in Texas. But the display is creating an unwanted spotlight for DeSantis: The helicopter is funded by Texas taxpayers, raising questions about the political nature of the flight and its cost. Reflecting the split nature of his duties, DeSantis wore a shirt that said “Governor Ron DeSantis” on the right and “DeSantis for President” on the left.

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