News You Can Use Digest - June 7, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

June 7, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 7, 2024


Multiple Trump Witnesses Have Received Significant Financial Benefits from His Businesses, Campaign

MSN – Robert Faturechi, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski (ProPublica) | Published: 6/3/2024

Nine witnesses in the criminal cases against Donald Trump have received significant financial benefits, including large raises from his campaign, severance packages, new jobs, and a grant of shares and cash from Trump’s media company. Defense lawyers say Trump’s dual role of defendant and the boss of many of the people who are witnesses to his alleged crimes is not uncommon. Even if the perks were not intended to influence witnesses, they could prove troublesome for Trump in any future trials. Prosecutors could point to the benefits to undermine the credibility of those aides on the witness stand.

Billions in Taxpayer Dollars Now Go to Religious Schools Via Vouchers

MSN – Laura Meckler and Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post) | Published: 6/3/2024

Billions in taxpayer dollars are being used to pay tuition at religious schools throughout the country, as state voucher programs expand dramatically and the line separating public education and religion fades. School vouchers can be used at almost any private school, but most of the money is being directed to religious schools. The growth follows a string of victories in the Supreme Court and state Legislatures by religious conservatives who have campaigned to tear down what once were constitutional prohibitions against spending tax money directly on religious education.

At Center of Alito Controversy, a Flag Celebrated by Extremists

MSN – Hannah Allen (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2024

From the earliest days of the republic, American radicals have drawn inspiration from a white flag emblazoned with a green pine tree and the words, “An Appeal to Heaven.” Extremism monitors say the self-styled revolutionaries of today’s Christian far right are reviving the idea that drastic action is again required to save the republic, and they have adopted the flag as their own. They say the “Appeal to Heaven” banner has taken on apocalyptic overtones that are increasingly present in the centers of American power.

Lawmakers Expensed Millions in 2023 Under New Program That Doesn’t Require Receipts

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Clara Ence Morse, and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 6/4/2024

A program started last year was intended to make it easier for members of Congress to cover the cost of maintaining separate homes in the District of Columbia and their home districts. But critics argue its reliance on the honor system and lack of transparent record-keeping makes it ripe for abuse. Lawmakers were reimbursed at least $5.2 million for food and lodging while on official business in Washington. The reimbursement scheme’s lack of receipt requirements is a “ridiculous loophole,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.

Investors, Worried They Can’t Beat Lawmakers in Stock Market, Copy Them Instead

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2024

Watchdog groups have long believed that some lawmakers use confidential information to make money in the stock market. Now a loose alliance of traders, analysts, and advocates is trying to let Americans mimic the trades elected officials make, offering tongue-in-cheek financial products that track purchases and sales after lawmakers disclose them. Collectively, these investment vehicles have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars. At times, congressional investigators have used them to keep tabs on suspicious trading activity.

As a Congressman Defended Trump, His 6-Year-Old Son Stole the Spotlight

MSN – Kyle Melnick (Washington Post) | Published: 6/4/2024

When U.S. Rep. John Rose approached the lectern on the House floor, he said he was going to “address the terrible precedent” set by Donald Trump’s criminal conviction. But only a few seconds into his speech, he no longer had everyone’s attention. Rose’s six-year-old son, Guy, smiled and leaned closer into C-SPAN’s camera shot while sitting behind his dad. As Rose called Trump the victim of a “politically driven” conviction, Guy stuck out his tongue with wide eyes and shook his head – a clip that has turned into a meme.

Judge Cannon Expands Hearing on Trump’s Request to Declare Special Counsel’s Appointment Invalid

MSN – Dan Berman and Katelyn Polantz (CNN) | Published: 6/5/2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon is planning on holding a sprawling hearing on Donald Trump’s request to declare Jack Smith’s appointment as special counsel invalid, signaling the judge could be more willing than any other trial judge to veto the special prosecutor’s authority. Cannon said a variety of political partisans and constitutional scholars not otherwise involved with the case can join in the oral arguments on June 21.

Ethics Panel Probes Rep. Spartz Over Staff Abuse Claims

MSN – Daniel Lippman and Adam Wren (Politico) | Published: 6/4/2024

The House Committee on Ethics has made preliminary inquiries into U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz’s treatment of staff in response to multiple complaints filed about her alleged “abuse,” “general toxicity,” and “rage,” according to a current aide and a former aide who made complaints. She recently imposed pay cuts reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars for some staffers, which came amid her ongoing complaints about her staff’s performance. In April, Spartz sent a note to staffers forbidding them to talk to Politico reporters who were pursuing tips about her office.

Even as the Judicial System Finds Trump Guilty, His Attacks Take a Toll

MSN – Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/30/2024

Donald Trump and his team waged an all-out war against the judicial system before the expected guilty verdict in his New York trial was announced, hoping to blunt the political damage and position him as a martyr. The jury’s verdict upheld the democratic principle that no one is above the law. But amid the offensive by Trump and his allies on the legal infrastructure holding him accountable, the trial came with a substantial cost, according to those who study democracy, with the ultimate impact likely to be measured in November.

Chief Justice Robert Declines to Meet with Democrats on Court Ethics

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/30/2024

Chief Justice John Roberts turned down an invitation to meet with Senate Democrats to discuss what the lawmakers called an “ethics crisis” at the Supreme Court following reports of two politically charged flags displayed outside the homes of Justice Samuel Alito. In a letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse, Roberts said such a meeting would be “inadvisable” in part because of the importance of preserving judicial independence.

PAC Run by Mark Meadows’ Wife Fined, Closing After Campaign Finance Violation

Yahoo Finance – Danielle Battaglia (Raleigh News & Observer) | Published: 5/31/2024

A PAC run by the wife of Mark Meadows, former President Trump’s last chief of staff, plans to close and faces a nearly $10,000 fine over accusations of violating federal election law. Brett Kappel, an attorney who focuses on campaign fiancé, lobbying, and government ethics law cases, said it is not unusual to see a super PAC terminate itself after paying a significant FEC penalty. “In fact, the commission sometimes makes termination a condition of settling the case for a lower penalty than the FEC would normally seek,” Kappel said.

Departing House Members Ask: ‘Why am I here?’

Yahoo News – Robert Draper (New York Times) | Published: 5/30/2024

A total of 54 U.S. House members will not be seeking another term this November. As a matter of numbers, the exodus is not history-making. What is striking are the names on the list. There are rising stars, seasoned legislators, and committee chairs. If anything, the malaise encompassing the House extends beyond those who have chosen not to serve another term. “You look around that chamber, there’s just a look of despair,” said Rep. Brian Higgins. “… I think a lot more members would be leaving if they had alternatives.”

Judge Rules Bannon Must Go to Prison by July 1 While Appealing Contempt Case

Yahoo News – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2024

A federal judge ordered former Trump political adviser and right-wing podcaster Stephen Bannon to report to prison by July 1 to begin serving a four-month prison term for contempt of Congress after an appeals court upheld his conviction. Prosecutors had asked the judge to lift the hold on the sentence, arguing that no substantive legal questions remain over Bannon’s conviction for refusing to provide documents or testimony to a House committee probing the insurrection.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – 2 Democrats Who Yelled Were Disorderly in AZ Abortion Debate, Panel Says

Arizona Daily Star – Bob Christie (Capitol News Services) | Published: 6/4/2024

Two Democratic lawmakers who yelled at Republican House members after GOP legislators used a procedural maneuver to recess rather than allow a vote to repeal Arizona’s near-total abortion ban are guilty of disorderly conduct, the House ethics panel said. But any punishment Minority Whip Oscar De Los Santos and Rep. Analise Ortiz face for breaking internal House rules will be up to the entire House, and the report by the ethics committee did not recommend what action is merited.

Arkansas – U.S.Supreme Court Sends Arkansas Redistricting Case Back to Judges after South Carolina Ruling

Yahoo News – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 6/3/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court sent a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ 2021 congressional map back to a three-judge panel, ordering it to review the suit in light of the high court’s decision against similar claims of bias in a redistricting case from South Carolina. The ruling is a setback for the lawsuit challenging the way Arkansas’ Republican Legislature redrew the lines for a Little Rock-area congressional district.

California – Ethics Probe Hangs Over Campaign to Recall Oakland Mayor as it Files Signatures

KQED – Annelise Finney | Published: 6/5/2024

As the campaign to recall Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao submitted signatures to put a recall on the ballot, the city agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws is investigating how the campaign handles donations. Simon Russell, the Public Ethics Commission’s enforcement chief, alleges Oakland United to Recall Sheng Thao is using Foundational Oakland Unites, a recently formed nonprofit and PAC, to hide the source of some contributions.

Colorado – Campaign Finance Reform Could Be Coming Next Election Cycle

Denverite – Rebecca Tauber | Published: 6/4/2024

The Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office hopes to strengthen its ability to investigate campaign finance violations and make campaign contributions more transparent in the next election cycle. The ordinance would give the office authority to dismiss uncredible complaints, among other changes. It would also standardize reporting requirements, so any group that receives at least $50 from a donor must report that donor’s name, address, and employer.

District of Columbia – D.C. Ethics Board Recommends Rudy Giuliani Be Disbarred

MSN – Alexandra Marquez (NBC News) | Published: 6/2/2024

The District of Columbia Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility recommended Rudy Giuliani be banned from practicing law in the nation’s capital. In their report, the Board cited Giuliani’s work in Pennsylvania following the 2020 presidential election, where he sought to have the results of the election there thrown out in favor of his former client Donald Trump.

Florida – Alex Díaz de la Portilla Under Investigation for Alleged Witness Tampering in Bribery Case

Yahoo News – Tess Riski (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/3/2024

Law enforcement is investigating possible witness tampering by former Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla in a bribery and money laundering case against him after his former chief of staff reported he had sent her text messages about her testimony. The former City Hall staffer, Karla Fortuny, alleged in a petition that Díaz de la Portilla’s messages were “intimidating and obviously meant to tamper with my presentation of complete and truthful testimony regarding my time as an employee of the City of Miami.”

Georgia – Georgia Appeals Court Pauses Lower-Court Proceedings in Trump Election Case

MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 6/5/2024

The Georgia Court of Appeals ordered a halt to the proceedings in the election interference case against Donald Trump and eight other defendants pending the outcome of their appeal seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. The order means the case will almost certainly not be scheduled for trial before the fall election or even the new year. It remains unclear if the case against the six remaining co-defendants who did not sign on to the appeal will proceed.

Illinois – Judge Tosses Out Illinois Ban on Drafting Legislative Candidates as ‘Restriction on Right to Vote’

MSN – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 6/5/2024

A judge rejected a law that Illinois Democrats adopted in May that prohibits political parties from drafting candidates when no one was on the party primary ballot. Sangamon County Circuit Judge Gail Noll ruled the law, passed to protect vulnerable Democrats in November’s general election, is unconstitutional. It improperly interferes with a person’s right to see access to the ballot and that, Noll wrote, “places a severe restriction on the fundamental right to vote.”

Kansas – Kansas Voters Have No Fundamental Constitutional Right to Vote, Supreme Court Rules

Yahoo News – Jason Alatidd and Jack Harvel (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 5/31/2024

Voters have no fundamental right to vote under the bill of rights in the state constitution, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled. Because voting is not considered a fundamental right, it means that courts will not use strict scrutiny when analyzing the impact of election laws. That will make it more difficult for plaintiffs to argue that a law affecting voting is unconstitutional.

Michigan – 2024 Michigan Elections: Nessel opinion tightens financial disclosure rules

Bridge Michigan – Lauren Gibbons | Published: 6/5/2024

State elections officials can require officeholders to provide more than the bare minimum on new personal financial disclosure forms, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel determined in a formal legal opinion. Lawmakers who finalized the rules last fall extended disclosure requirements to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state Legislature but left what critics called loopholes allowing filers to obscure monetary values and other information about income sources, and assets held by spouses.

Michigan – Michigan Lawmaker Wants to Pay Reporters to Uncover Corruption

MSN – J.D. Davidson (Center Square) | Published: 5/30/2024

A Michigan lawmaker wants to pay reporters and news organizations to expose public corruption and save taxpayers money. Rep. Joseph Aragona developed the idea after The Detroit News recently exposed questionable spending surrounding a $20 million grant to businessperson Fay Beydoun. She was an executive committee member of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Spending included a $4,500 coffee maker, $11,000 for a plane ticket, $100,000 for a sponsorship, and $9,400 for annual membership dues in the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Missouri – After Investigation, Top MO House Republican Now Faces Scathing Whistleblower Lawsuit

Yahoo News – Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 5/31/2024

Dana Miller, chief clerk of the Missouri House since 2018, filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Speaker Dean Plocher and his chief of staff, Rod Jetton, retaliated against her after she reported policy violations and wastes of public money. Miller’s suit paints a damning portrait, showing the lengths that Plocher and Jetton went to allegedly threaten and retaliate against Miller and other House staffers amid a slew of scandals Plocher faced in his final session as speaker that resulted in a months-long investigation.

Nevada – A Republican Election Clerk vs. Trump Die-Hards in a World of Lies

DNyuz – Eli Saslow (New York Times) | Published: 6/6/2024

Ever since Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his denials and distortions spread outward from the White House to even the country’s most remote places, like Esmeralda County, Nevada. Trump won the county with 82 percent of the vote despite losing Nevada. In the days after the election, some county residents parroted Trump’s talking points and brought their complaints to the monthly commissioner meetings. When County Clerk Cindy Elgan continued to stand up at each meeting to dispute and disprove those accusations, they began to blame her, too.

New Jersey – Gov. Murphy Signs Legislation That Dismantles Access to Public Records in NJ

MSN – Katie Sobko (Bergen Record) | Published: 6/5/2024

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation overhauling access to the state’s public records, likely making it harder for the public and media to access some documents, according to critics. One provision permits officials to charge commercial interests as much as twice the cost of producing records. Other language authorizes agencies to sue requesters they accuse of interrupting “government function.” The new law also ends a requirement for towns to pay attorneys’ fees in court cases they lose over records requests.

New York – How Top N.Y. Officials Helped a Lobbyist Cash in on State Government

DNyuz – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 6/5/2024

In the midst of the pandemic in early 2021, New York state officials were hashing out how to build a mobile app to display users’ vaccination status when an unfamiliar face suddenly started joining the conference calls. The new participant, Michael Balboni, was a former state lawmaker and more recently had been working as a lobbyist in Albany. He was also a close friend of a top official in the budget office, the agency overseeing the app’s rollout. Soon after, one of the contractors overseeing the app’s development, Deloitte Consulting, signed Balboni as a consultant, then as a lobbyist.

New York – NYC Council Eyes Stricter Fundraising Rules Amid Legal Probes into Mayor Adams’ Campaign

Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 6/5/2024

New York City Councilperson Lincoln Restler will introduce legislation to give new power and added responsibilities to the watchdog agency running the city’s public campaign finance system. Restler’s package would empower the Campaign Finance Board to withhold matching money to campaigns that do not respond to the agency’s requests for information about their donors within 30 days. Another bill would impose stiffer restrictions on how much lobbyists and other individuals listed in the city’s Doing Business Database can raise as an intermediary on behalf of a candidate.

New York – Trump Verdict Vindicates N.Y. Prosecutor Who Quietly Pursued a Risky Path

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2024

Donald Trump was found guilty in New York on 34 counts for falsifying business records related to a hush money payment ahead of the 2016 election. Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, had weathered a tide of criticism for bringing charges against the former president. Those who know Bragg said he was undeterred by the constant political attacks and committed to pursuing a novel legal theory he believed made sense.

New York – Ethics Commission Subpoenaed Hochul Administration Over Bills Box Seats

New York Focus – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/31/2024

The New York Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government issued a subpoena to the state’s economic development agency for records related to state officials’ use of a Buffalo Bills luxury suite. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and others gained exclusive access to the state-owned suite. The officials brought several guests. A complaint argued attendees got premium tickets at a bargain price because of their close relationships to politicians. The complaint claimed the politicians did not have valid governmental reasons to attend the game.

Ohio – Ohio Senate Approves Fix Assuring President Biden Is on Fall Ballot

MSN – Bruce Shipkowski (Associated Press) | Published: 5/31/2024

A temporary fix allowing President Biden to appear on this fall’s ballot in Ohio cleared the Republican-dominated Legislature as it concluded a rare special session. Lawmakers also approved a ban on foreign nationals contributing to state ballot campaigns. Gov. Mike DeWine signed both bills.

Ohio – FirstEnergy, the Center Point of a Bribery Plot, Could Officially Beat the Rap This Summer

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 6/2/2024

Federal prosecutors are set to release FirstEnergy, the utility at the center of intersecting dollar bribery schemes, from a special cooperation agreement that offered prosecutors a roadmap of a compromised state government. Prosecutors charged the company with conspiracy in its efforts to bribe government officials in exchange for favorable treatment. But in exchange for FirstEnergy’s cooperation, payment of a $230 million fine, forfeiture of another roughly $7 million, some corporate reforms, and its issuance of a public statement of guilt, the government will drop that charge within 30 days of the agreement’s expiration date.

Ohio – Cleveland City Council Doubles Campaign Finance Contribution Limits, Some Residents Push Back

WVIZ – Abbey Marshall | Published: 6/3/2024

The Cleveland City Council quickly – and controversially – approved legislation that doubled campaign donation limits ahead of council elections in 2025. Those caps jumped from $1,500 to $3,000 for individuals and from $3,000 to $6,000 for PACs. Council President Blaine Griffin said it will allow candidates to tap into other sources aside from the Council Leadership Fund, a PAC controlled by Griffin that some members of the public have criticized.

Oregon – Lawmakers Approve $5 Million for Secretary of State Office to Overhaul Oregon Campaign Finance Filing System

MSN – Carlos Fuentes (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/31/2024

Lawmakers approved $5.41 million to modernize Oregon’s outdated campaign finance filing system by 2028. of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade asked for the funding after the Legislature in March passed a historic campaign finance bill that will limit the amount of money that individuals and groups can directly give to candidates.

Pennsylvania – Several Pa. House Republicans Boo Officers Who Defended Capitol on Jan. 6

MSN – Leo Sands (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2024

Two former law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol from rioters during the insurrection were jeered by state GOP lawmakers as they visited Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, according to several Democratic lawmakers present. As former U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and former sergeant Aquilino Gonell, both of whom were injured by rioters on January 6, were introduced, the House floor descended into chaos. Several GOP lawmakers hissed and booed, with a number of Republicans walking out in protest.

Pennsylvania – Former Philly Councilmember Bobby Henon’s Bribery Conviction Upheld by Federal Appeals Court

MSN – Jeremy Roebuck and Oona Goodin-Smith (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 5/31/2024

Former Philadelphia City Councilperson Bobby Henon’s bid to overturn his 2021 bribery conviction fell short as a federal appeals court rejected his contention that prosecutors had failed to fully prove their case. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found jurors had been presented with enough evidence to conclude the former council majority leader sold the powers of his office to labor leader John Dougherty in exchange for a $70,000-a-year salary from his politically powerful union.

Rhode Island – R.I. Ethics Panel Rules Sen. Lawson Can Vote on Pension-Related Bills

Yahoo News – Nancy Lavin (Rhode Island Current) | Published: 6/4/2024

One-third of Rhode Island lawmakers collect, or could eventually receive, a state pension. Yet only one, Sen. Majority Whip Valarie Lawson, consulted with the state ethics panel on whether her former teaching career and current job as president of one of the state teachers’ unions preclude her from voting on pension-related legislation. The Ethics Commission ruled she could vote, citing a clause in the ethics code letting public officials participate in actions that may benefit them personally if enough other people also receive the same benefit.

Texas – Former Houston Public Works Official Charged in Corruption Case Involving Waterline Repair Contracts

MSN – Yilun Cheng (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 6/1/2024

A former employee of Houston’s Public Works Department was arrested for allegedly taking bribes from vendors and funneling city dollars to herself through a shell company. The department first suspended Patrece Lee, a former manager of the department’s water operation, in November 2023 after a media report alerted the city of possible conflicts-of-interest in her handling of emergency contracts for water leak repairs. The internal probe later turned into a criminal investigation.

Wisconsin – Former Trump Aides Charged in Wisconsin Over 2020 Elector Plot

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 6/4/2024

Wisconsin’s attorney general filed conspiracy charges against a former aide and two attorneys who advised Donald Trump over a meeting of Republicans claiming to be the state’s 2020 presidential electors even though Trump had lost the state. The charges are the first in Wisconsin related to the meeting of electors. Prosecutors have separately charged Republicans who were involved in similar efforts in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Georgia.

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