News You Can Use Digest - June 9, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

June 9, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 9, 2023


Prosecutors Scrutinize Political Nonprofit Groups for Fund-Raising Fraud

DNyuz – David Fahrenthold, William Rashbaum, and Tiff Fehr (New York Times) | Published: 6/1/2023

Federal prosecutors are scrutinizing at least 10 political nonprofit groups seeking to determine if the organizations defrauded donors, according to subpoenas. The subpoenas sought recordings of the fundraising calls made by two separate networks of political nonprofits that together have raised tens of millions of dollars. The Justice Department has charged a handful of other political operatives with fraud for running what prosecutors called “scam PACs.” Prosecutors said these groups deceive donors by promising their money would be used to help politicians but then using it to enrich themselves.

N.J. Sen. Bob Menendez Escaped Legal Peril Once. Can He Do It Again?

MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 6/3/2023

Prosecutors in 2017 failed to convince jurors that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez helped a wealthy Florida doctor in exchange for lavish gifts. After beating back the government’s case, Menendez won reelection in 2018. When Democrats captured control of the Senate, he regained the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, cementing his place as one of the highest-ranking Hispanic leaders in the nation. But now, Menendez is once again at the heart of a federal criminal investigation concentrating at least in part on the possibility he received undisclosed gifts.

Republicans Set Presidential Debate Rules That Could Exclude Some

MSN – Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2023

The Republican National Committee will require presidential candidates to attract 40,000 individual campaign donors and the support of at least one percent of voters in multiple national polls to qualify for the first debate this August. The filter also requires candidates to pledge support for the party’s eventual nominee. Some candidates are concerned the rules could sideline their campaigns at the starting gate. The first Republican debates of the 2016 campaign season included 17 candidates in two different events.

Supreme Court Tossed Out Heart of Voting Rights Act a Decade Ago, Prompting Wave of New Voting Rules

MSN – Christina Cassidy and Ayanna Alexander (Associated Press) | Published: 6/6/2023

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dismantled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act continues to reverberate across the country a decade later, as Republican-led states pass voting restrictions that, in several cases, would have been subject to federal review had the conservative-leaning court left the provision intact. At the same time, the justices have continued to take other cases challenging elements of the landmark 1965 law that was born from the sometimes-violent struggle for the right of Black Americans to cast ballots.

These Academics Studied Falsehoods Spread by Trump. Now the GOP Wants Answers.

MSN – Naomi Nix and Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2023

House Judiciary Committee Chairperson Jim Jordan and his allies in Congress are demanding documents from and meetings with leading academics who study disinformation, increasing pressure on a group they accuse of colluding with government officials to suppress conservative speech. The push caps years of pressure from conservative activists who have harangued such academics online and in person and filed open-records requests to obtain the correspondence of those working at public universities.

Conservatives Seek Control Over Public Universities with State Bills

MSN – Susan Svrluga (Washington Post) | Published: 6/3/2023

Conservative lawmakers have accelerated efforts to try to rein in what they see as liberal indoctrination on college campuses, with dozens of state bills igniting debates in recent months over academic priorities and how public universities should operate. Their efforts include limiting teaching about certain topics, mandating courses, ending faculty tenure, banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and fighting accreditors trying to limit political interference. Having state leaders working to fight national culture wars on campus and codify their vision for higher education into law has dismayed many academics.

Justice Thomas Delays Disclosures After Reports of Travel, Property Sale

MSN – Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 6/7/2023

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asked for more time to file annual financial disclosures after criticism that he failed to report luxury travel and real estate deals with a wealthy Republican donor. Justice Samuel Alito also asked for an extension as he has done in previous years. The reports, covering activity in 2022, show the justices earned thousands of dollars from teaching positions; received payments for books they have authored; and accepted free travel to lecture at legal conferences, including in Italy and Scotland.

Chris Christie Launches 2024 Run as Brawler Eager to Take on Trump

MSN – Maeve Reston and Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2023

More than seven years after he ended his first campaign for president and then endorsed Donald Trump, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie returns as a long-shot candidate in a growing Republican field where the former president has jumped out to a wide lead. Christie’s backers point to his blunt style and his sharp wit as traits that make him suited to shake up the race by forcefully challenging Trump. But polls show Christie is viewed negatively by many Republicans. Many prominent figures in the party who have vocally criticized Trump from a more traditional GOP posture in recent years have been rejected in party primaries.

Pence Unleashes Sharp Attacks on Trump as He Launches White House Bid

MSN – Marianne Levine and Ashley Parker (Washington Post) | Published: 6/7/2023

Mike Pence launched his run for president, making his most sweeping case yet against Donald Trump’s fitness for office and beginning a campaign against his former boss more than two years after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol upended their relationship. The former vice president also challenged Trump on other matters, including abortion, changes to entitlement programs, comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, and even general civility. Pence faces an awkward task of promoting his experience while arguing he is a strong alternative to Trump.

The Spam and the Scam: What’s driving those incessant political fundraising email and text campaigns blowing up your inbox

Yahoo News – Madison Hall (Business Insider) | Published: 6/1/2023

Consumers are drowning in a sea of spam messages and scams from political campaigns, and experts said it is not going to change anytime soon. For one, the very business model of campaigning means a key asset of a debt-laden campaign post-election is its email list, opening up the people on it to subsequent unwanted spam. Some campaigns have also begun to turn to misleading tactics within those emails. Campaign operatives said annoying voters is simply part of the job.

Through Ties to Saudis, Golf Deal Promises Benefits to Trump

Yahoo News – Eric Lipton (New York Times) | Published: 6/7/2023

The surprising deal ending a civil war in the world of professional golf stands to produce benefits for Donald Trump’s family business by increasing the prospect of major tournaments continuing to be played at Trump-owned courses in the U.S. and perhaps abroad. The outcome is the latest example of how the close relationship between Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign wealth fund is the force behind the upheaval in the golf world, has proved beneficial to both sides even as it has prompted intense ethical scrutiny and political criticism.

Trump Lawyer’s Notes Could Be a Key in the Classified Documents Inquiry

Yahoo News – Alan Feuer, Ben Protess, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 6/3/2023

Turning on his iPhone one day last year, the lawyer M. Evan Corcoran recorded his reflections about a high-profile new job: representing former President Trump in an investigation into his handling of classified documents. Corcoran recounted in detail a nearly monthlong period of the documents investigation. A recording like the voice memo Corcoran made is typically shielded by attorney-client or work-product privilege. But a federal judge ordered the recorded recollections to be given to the office of the special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the documents probe.

From the States and Municipalities

Europe – EU Commission Proposes Common Ethics Body for All EU Officials in Wake of Corruption Scandal

ABC News – Samuel Petrequin (Associated Press) | Published: 6/8/2023

The European Union’s (EU) executive arm proposed to create an ethics body that would set up common rules of conduct for institutions after the 27-nation bloc was rocked last year by a cash-for-influence scandal. The EU does not currently have comprehensive lobbying regulations and the proposal would establish common standards for all politicians when it comes to gifts, hospitality, and travel offered by third parties.

Alabama – Legislature Passes Bill Opening Ethics Complaints to Respondents

Alabama Political Reporter – Samuel Stettheimer | Published: 6/7/2023

The Alabama Legislature voted to require the state Ethics Commission to provide exculpatory evidence discovered during investigations to those accused of violating the ethics law. Though the rules of criminal procedure govern the discovery process in current law, the commission operates under similar secrecy requirements as grand juries. The ethics panel hears cases, but prosecution is referred to the state attorney general or appropriate district attorney.

Alabama – Supreme Court: Alabama must draw new voting map favorable to Black residents

MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 6/8/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Republican-drawn congressional districts in Alabama that civil rights activists say discriminated against Black voters in a surprise reaffirmation of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling upholds a decision by a three-judge panel that threw out Alabama’s new congressional map, which included only one congressional district with a majority of Black voters even though African Americans make up more than a quarter of the state’s population.

Arizona – Democratic Senate Hopeful Claims Primary Residence in Arizona – and D.C.

MSN – Daniel Lippman (Politico) | Published: 6/5/2023

When U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego bought a house near Capitol Hill last year, he claimed the property as his primary residence as part of a special mortgage rate afforded to veterans. But Gallego and his wife also say a home they own in Phoenix is their primary residence. The loan documents confirmed he counts the District of Columbia as his primary home even though his campaign for the U.S. Senate maintains he resides in Arizona. Politically, it means Gallego, who hopes to take out Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in a hotly contested race next year may have to explain why he declared he was primarily a resident of the nation’s capital.

California – San Francisco Ethics Watchdog Decries ‘Severe’ Cuts Under Mayor’s Budget

San Francisco Standard – Mike Ege | Published: 6/5/2023

San Francisco Ethics Commission Chairperson Yvonne Lee released a statement denouncing Mayor London Breed’s cuts to the agency’s budget, calling them “unusually severe” and implying the commission had been singled out for reductions that will drastically impede its work. Lee said the published budget for the agency would amount to a 32 percent reduction in operating funds and 40 percent cut to staff over two years.

Florida – How a Developer Pushing a Luxury Coral Gables High Rise Became a Tenant of the Mayor

MSN – Tess Riski (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/1/2023

A developer who hired Miami’s mayor as a $10,000-a-month consultant has also paid tens of thousands of dollars in rent for a storefront owned in part by the mayor of Coral Gables while pushing for city approvals to build a luxury high-rise across the street. Developer Rishi Kapoor leased a former martial arts studio from a group of investors that included Mayor Vince Lago. New details are emerging following reports that at the same time Kapoor was leasing from Lago, he was also contracting privately with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and pursuing a development project in Coconut Grove.

Florida – Accused of Corruption, Latin Leader Uses Mystery Money, Florida Firms Amid Impeachment Fight

Yahoo News – Antonio Maria Delgado and Kevin Hall (Miami Herald) | Published: 6/2/2023

As the president of Ecuador faced threats of impeachment for alleged corruption, a tiny Florida public relations firm was given a six-figure contract to lobby journalists to publish favorable stories about the embattled leader – not in Ecuador, where his political fortunes were dire, but in British and U.S. media markets, including in Miami. Mysteries abound over the $250,000 payment benefiting President Guillermo Lasso. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires that any company working in the U.S. on behalf of foreign interests disclose its connections to ensure the American political process is not manipulated by hidden forces.

Georgia – Georgia Probe of Trump Broadens to Activities in Other States

MSN – Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2023

An investigation in Georgia of alleged election interference by former President Trump and his allies has broadened to include activities in Washington, D.C., and several other states, a fresh sign that prosecutors may be building a sprawling case under Georgia’s racketeering laws. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched a probe to examine efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 defeat in Georgia. She has signaled publicly she may use the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute to allege these efforts amounted to a far-reaching criminal scheme.

Illinois – Politically Connected Businessman James Weiss Heads to Trial Amid Swirling Investigations, Intrigue

MSN – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/5/2023

Chicago businessperson James Weiss is facing federal bribery charges alleging he agreed to pay off a state senator in exchange for support on legislation that would benefit the sweepstakes gaming industry. It is a trial filled with political intrigue, both in the line-up of current and former elected officials expected to the take the stand, as well as the backdrop of ongoing federal investigations swirling around Weiss’s associates, including the Cook County Assessor’s Office and for House Speaker Michael Madigan and other members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Illinois – Second Jobs for Chicago Aldermen Would Be Restricted or Even Banned Under Proposed Ordinance

MSN – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/5/2023

The ability of Chicago City Council members to hold down outside jobs would be sharply curtailed under a proposed ordinance. The bill stipulates “serving as alderperson shall be considered a full-time job” and allows only a few carve-outs for attorneys performing pro-bono work and aldermen who are landlords for fewer than five properties. Aldermanic salaries range from $115,560 to $142,776. Talk of barring outside employment has been floated repeatedly but never gained traction. The council instead passed ordinances chipping away at potential conflicts or slightly tightening ethics restrictions.

Illinois – Aldermen Use Expense Accounts to Pay Ex-Park District Official Who Resigned Amid Lifeguard Scandal

Yahoo News – Alex Harrison (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/5/2023

Four aldermen have paid more than $48,000 out of their taxpayer-funded expense accounts to a consulting firm run by a former top Chicago Park District official who was asked to resign for his involvement in a sexual harassment scandal and placed on a do-not-rehire list. Alonzo Williams was paid as an independent contractor for various consulting jobs. The payments came from little-known aldermanic expense allowances, which now provide each of the city’s 50 council members $122,000 annually to spend on almost anything they want with little oversight.

Kentucky – Group Pushing to Expand Service Boundary Won’t Release Donors. They Don’t Have to in Lexington

Yahoo News – Beth Musgrave (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 6/1/2023

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s ethics rules do not require people and groups who lobby city government to register or disclose their spending. Two groups have emerged with specific stands on the city’s proposed growth: Lexington for Everyone, which has pushed for an immediate expansion of the urban service boundary, and the Fayette Alliance, which has lobbied for the city to wait until studies are complete before pushing forward. According to its spokesperson, Lexington for Everyone does not have to disclose its donors because it is a 501 (c)4 nonprofit. The Fayette Alliance is a 501(c)3.

Maryland – The Cozy Relationships and Shadowy Disclosures Behind Baltimore’s $8M Police Consent Decree

Baltimore Banner – Ben Conarck | Published: 6/5/2023

Last November, as Mayor Brandon Scott prepared to announce his former chief of staff as the city’s new top attorney, the head of the Baltimore Police Department’s consent decree monitoring team notified the federal court of a familial relationship. Ebony Thompson, Scott’s choice for acting city solicitor, is the great-niece of Ken Thompson, the head of the independent group responsible for measuring the police department’s compliance with reforms. Though Ken Thompson and city officials saw the relationship as significant enough to disclose to the judge overseeing the decree, they never made it public.

Nebraska – Nebraska Agency Rejects Conflict-of-Interest Complaint Against Sen. Megan Hunt

Lincoln Journal Star – Erin Barner (Omaha World-Herald) | Published: 6/2/2023

A complaint alleging a Nebraska lawmaker had a conflict-of-interest during the Legislature’s debate over gender-affirming care restrictions has officially been dismissed. A complaint was based on Sen. Megan Hunt having a transgender child, and on her family being covered by Medicaid. Although Nebraska’s Medicaid policy explicitly excludes gender-affirming care, the complaint alleged Hunt and her child “have a slightly more than average chance of obtaining Nebraska Medicaid coverage,” and argued she should have disclosed this prior to debate on the bill.

Nevada – Lombardo Violated Ethics Laws, State Commission Executive Director Says

MSN – Jessica Hill (Las Vegas Review-Journal) | Published: 6/5/2023

Nevada Commission on Ethics Executive Director Ross Armstrong alleges Gov. Joe Lombardo committed multiple ethics violations by using his sheriff’s badge and uniform during his campaign. He also argues that Lombardo’s violations were “willful,” in part because he did not self-report or attempt to rectify the violations before or after the complaints were filed. Armstrong asked the commission to order Lombardo to pay a civil penalty of about $1.67 million, issue a censure, and designate an ethics officer to his office.

New Mexico – Candidate Charged with Shooting at Democrats’ Homes After Election Loss

MSN – Ben Brasch and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2023

A failed New Mexico candidate was indicted on a charge of allegedly organizing and carrying out a plan to shoot at the houses of Democrats and officials who certified his losing election. Solomon Peña and co-conspirators Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Trujillo were formally charged with conspiracy and interference with elections and several firearms offenses that include the use of a machine gun. Investigators say text messages and data from cellphones show how they formed their violent plan.

New York – Cuomo Seeks to Upend Ethics Commission and Keep $5M Book Payment

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 6/2/2023

Attorneys for former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government squared off in state Supreme Court in a case in which Cuomo is arguing the panel was created in violation of the constitution and should not be allowed to investigate a $5 million deal he secured to publish a book about his handling of the pandemic. Cuomo’s attorneys are asserting the state’s ethics agency is unconstitutional because of its lack of executive oversight, which, in turn, violates separation of powers.

Ohio – A Former Ohio House Speaker Says He’s the Victim of His Corrupt Successor

MSN – Jake Zuckerman and Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 6/1/2023

In a filing in the case of ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, the man who held the gavel before him, Cliff Rosenberger, sought recognition under the Crime Victims Rights Act. This could allow him to receive money from the case. Rosenberger said Householder and lobbyist Neil Clark waged a campaign of “misinformation” that sparked an FBI probe and Rosenberger’s resignation. If it were not for Householder targeting him, Rosenberger said he would have finished his time as speaker without suffering the “economic, reputational, and emotional injuries” inflicted on him.

Ohio – Judge to Ex-Councilman Jeff Pastor: Guilty plea ‘a very important day in your life’

Yahoo News – Sharon Coolidge and Kevin Grasha (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 6/7/2023

Former Cincinnati City Councilperson Jeff Pastor faces up to two years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge for a bribery scheme that began during his first year in office. He is now the third former council member in recent years to be convicted on corruption charges. Pastor was accused of receiving $55,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer. In the plea agreement, he admitted taking $15,000. He is required to repay that money.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Board Approves Nation’s First Religious Public Charter School

MSN – Nuria Martinez-Keel (Oklahoman) | Published: 6/5/2023

An Oklahoma school board approved what would be the country’s first taxpayer-funded religious school amid threats of lawsuits, dueling attorney general stances, a last-minute board member replacement, and growing national interest. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City intends to open St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in 2024, serving students K-12 in all parts of the state. Archdiocese officials have said the school will promote the Catholic faith and operate according to church doctrine, including its views on sexual orientation and gender identity, raising questions of whether it would abide by all federal non-discrimination requirements.

Oregon – Federal Criminal Investigators Examining Former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s Dealings with a Cannabis Company

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 6/7/2023

Federal criminal investigators are looking into former Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and the two cannabis entrepreneurs she briefly worked for, records show. According to subpoenas, prosecutors sent demands to five state agencies for records concerning Fagan and the owners of the La Mota cannabis chain, Aaron Mitchell and Rosa Cazares. Fagan resigned after revelations she had taken on private consulting work for Mitchell and Cazares as her office prepared an audit of state regulations that was seen as extremely favorable to cannabis companies.

Pennsylvania – The Ethics Board Has Fined a Real Estate Firm Tied to the 76ers for Failing to Disclose it Lobbied for a Proposed Arena

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 6/6/2023

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics fined CBL Real Estate $4,000 for omissions on its lobbying reports in 2022. The firm filed amended reports that show it lobbied members of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and city council members on a proposal to build an arena in the city. The firm shares an address with Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Philadelphia 76ers. Neither the 76ers organization nor 76 Devcorp, the team’s development arm, filed lobbying reports in 2022, and it is not obvious from CBL Real Estate’s lobbying registration that they have ties to the team.

Pennsylvania – Shapiro Won’t Share Daily Calendar, a Departure from Previous Pa. Governor’s Transparency

Spotlight PA – Katie Meyer | Published: 6/5/2023

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro is declining to make public his daily calendar, a policy that obscures many of the details about who he meets with and what they discuss. The decision breaks from the practice of his predecessor and is the latest choice by the governor to roll back a transparency measure. Attorneys for the governor told said Shapiro’s calendars are personal, do not have an official purpose, and are not shared widely within the office, an explanation that elected officials in Pennsylvania have frequently offered in response to calendar requests.

Pennsylvania – Pa. House Passes Bill to Require Electronically Filed Campaign Finance Reports

Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 6/6/2023

The Pennsylvania House approved legislation to require candidates for a state office to file their campaign finance reports electronically, instead of on paper. The bill goes to the state Senate, which is considering its own version of similar legislation. Many candidates and PACs already file reports electronically, and paper filing is costly and inefficient, sponsors said, adding that moving to an entirely electronic model would reduce costs.

Rhode Island – New Bill Could Bring Big Changes to RI Political Donations. Here’s What’s Proposed.

Yahoo News – Patrick Anderson (Providence Journal) | Published: 6/5/2023

Legislation in Rhode Island would raise the $1,000 annual individual campaign contribution limit to $2,000. The bill would also allow primary candidates for statewide office to qualify for public matching funds. It would limit candidates’ ability to list services they have received as “accounts payable” without reporting them as expenditures or contributions, along with other reforms.

Tennessee – Judge Finds Tennessee Law Aimed at Restricting Drag Shows Unconstitutional

Seattle Times – Emily Cochrane (New York Times) | Published: 6/3/2023

A federal judge ruled a Tennessee law strictly limiting drag shows in public or in places where children could be present is unconstitutional, finding it violates freedom of speech protections. The ruling is an initial victory for supporters of LGBTQ rights after weeks of confusion over the law’s language and how it would affect not only drag artists in the state, but also transgender, nonbinary, and other gender-nonconforming people. Across the country, drag events and Pride celebrations have faced an uptick in protests and threats as conservative activists have sought to limit the events.

Texas – How Angela Paxton Could Help Decide the Fate of Her Embattled Husband, Ken

DNyuz – J. David Goodman (New York Times) | Published: 5/31/2023

Angela Paxton is one of 31 state senators who are designated to act as jurors in her husband’s impeachment trial this summer, deciding whether to convict Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on charges he abused his office to benefit himself and a donor and permanently remove him from office. She is not only married to Ken Paxton; she has also been directly affected by the conduct her husband is accused of. Among the articles of impeachment are allegations he had an extramarital affair and used his office to help a donor who repaid him in part by giving the woman a job.

Utah – Protester Opposed to Book Bans Gets Bible Pulled from Some Utah Schools

MSN – Justine McDaniel (Washington Post) | Published: 6/3/2023

The Bible has been removed from libraries in a Utah school district after being challenged by a person making a jab at book bans. After a state law allowing school districts to pull “pornographic or indecent” books from schools passed last year, someone in the Davis School District submitted a complaint about the King James Bible, arguing the text was “pornographic by our new definition.” A school district committee determined the Bible was not age-appropriate for elementary and middle-schoolers, though it ruled the text does not contain the type of “sensitive material” the law seeks to keep out of schools.

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