News You Can Use Digest - March 1, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

March 1, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 1, 2024


Lawmakers Across the U.S. Seek to Curb Utility Spending on Politics, Ads and More Extras

Arkansas Advocate – Robert Zullo | Published: 2/27/2024

After a string of scandals and amid rising bills, lawmakers in statehouses across the country have been pushing legislation to curb utilities spending ratepayer money on lobbying, expert testimony in rate cases, goodwill advertising, charitable giving, trade association memberships, and other costs. At least a dozen states have considered bills to limit how gas, water, and electric utilities can spend customers’ money.

N.R.A. Stung by Corruption Verdict Tied to Millions of Misspent Dollars

DNyuz – Jesse McKinley, Liset Cruz, and Kate Christobek (New York Times) | Published: 2/23/2024

In a sweeping rebuke of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a jury ruled its leaders had engaged in a yearslong pattern of financial misconduct and corruption. The jury found the group’s former leader, Wayne LaPierre, had used NRA funds pay for personal expenses, including vacations, luxury flights for his relatives, and yacht rides, and that two other top executives had failed in their duties to the nonprofit organization.

Instagram’s Uneasy Rise as a News Site

DNyuz – Sapna Maheshwari and Mike Isaac (New York Times) | Published: 2/22/2024

A crop of personalities figured out how to package information and deliver it on Instagram, increasingly turning the social platform into a force in news. Many millennials and Gen X-ers, in an echo of how older generations used Facebook, have grown more comfortable reading news on Instagram and reposting posts and videos for friends on Instagram Stories, which disappear after 24 hours. Traditional news organizations have large Instagram feeds where they share reporting, but these news accounts hold a different appeal and have become more visible in recent years.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel Will Leave Post on March 8 as Trump Moves to Install New Loyalists

MSN – Steve Peoples (Associated Press) | Published: 2/26/2024

Republican National Committee Chairperson Ronna McDaniel will leave her post on March 8, having been forced out of the GOP’s national leadership as Donald Trump moves toward another presidential nomination and asserts control over the party. McDaniel was a strong advocate for the former president and helped reshape the party in his image. But the MAGA movement increasingly blamed McDaniel for Trump’s 2020 loss and the party’s failures to meet expectations in races the last two years.

As Trump Continues to Trounce Haley, She Presses on as MAGA Antagonist

MSN – Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 2/25/2024

Nikki Haley suffered another blow in the lopsided race for the Republican presidential nomination, losing to Donald Trump by about 20 points in her home state of South Carolina. Yet she promised to press on. As the last Republican candidate standing against Trump, she has drawn polarized reactions as she has become a vehicle for the deep discontent that some in the party feel about a Trump rematch with President Biden.

Court Battle Reveals Effort to Undermine No Labels Presidential Bid

MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 2/26/2024

Political operatives opposed to No Labels’ potential 2024 presidential ticket took over the domain last year and purchased Google search ads aimed at spreading the misleading claim that the group supported Donald Trump and other right-wing causes, according to testimony. The court case comes amid ongoing debate over the goals of the No Labels effort, which aims to potentially place a yet-to-be-identified bipartisan presidential ticket on as many ballots as possible.

Supreme Court to Weigh Trump’s Immunity Claim in D.C. 2020 Election Trial

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 2/28/2024

Donald Trump’s trial for seeking to subvert the 2020 election is likely to remain on hold for several more months while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up his argument that he is immune from prosecution for actions he took while president. The justices set arguments for the week of April 22 to consider a lower court ruling that rejected Trump’s sweeping assertion of immunity from prosecution. The move puts the Supreme Court in the politically fraught position of influencing the timing of an election obstruction trial for the leading Republican presidential candidate.

Justices Skeptical of Tex., Fla. Laws That Bar Platforms from Deleting Content

MSN – Ann Marimow and Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 2/26/2024

A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed broadly skeptical that state governments have the power to set rules for how social media platforms curate content, with both liberal and conservative justices inclined to stop Texas and Florida from immediately implementing laws that ban the removal of certain controversial posts or political content. A majority of the court seemed to think the First Amendment prevents state governments from requiring platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to host certain content.

McConnell Will Step Down as the Senate Republican Leader in November After a Record Run in the Job

Yahoo News – Michael Tackett (Associated Press) | Published: 2/28/2024

Mitch McConnell, the longest serving Senate leader in history who maintained his power in the face of dramatic turmoil in the Republican Party or almost two decades, will step down from that position in November. McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027. His decision punctuates an ideological transition underway in the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan’s brand of traditional conservatism and strong international alliances, to the fiery, often isolationist populism of Donald Trump.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Ethics Commission Pushes Back on Proposed Law Changes

Alabama Daily News – Mary Sell | Published: 2/29/2024

Alabama Rep. Matt Simpson said he is not giving up on efforts to add clarity to the state’s ethics law. During a public hearing, those speaking against Simpson’s reform bill included Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, and commission member and former state Supreme Court Justice Lyn Stuart. “There are specific provisions which can be addressed and should be addressed, but an entire rewrite of the act would be overkill and would be bad for the people of Alabama.,” said Albritton.

California – California Lawmakers Can’t Take Lobbyist Donations – Unless They’re Running for Congress

MSN – Julia Wick, Anabel Sosa, and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 2/24/2024

State law forbids California lobbyists from donating to the campaigns of state lawmakers. But there are no such restrictions on lobbyists donating to campaigns for federal office, even when the candidate is a state lawmaker. So as state Sen. Susan Rubio runs for Congress this year, she can take donations for her federal campaign from lobbyists who may seek to influence her votes in Sacramento. Lobbyists are not required to publicly report which lawmakers they have attempted to influence on various bills, making it difficult to draw direct lines between their lobbying efforts and their donations.

California – Orange County’s Wild West of Campaign Finance: The Board of Education

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada | Published: 2/28/2024

Almost every campaign for city, county and state government in Orange County has a limit on how much donors can give to their favorite candidates. But one big outlier is the county Board of Education, which has no limitations on political contributions. A review of the most recent election cycle found over $700,000 in contributions to the current board that would violate state campaign finance limits for cities and counties without their own campaign financing caps. But they are legal for school districts and boards of education.

Florida – The End of Public Campaign Finance? Senate Approves Referendum to Repeal Standing Law

Florida Politics – A.G. Gancarski | Published: 2/28/2024

Florida voters may soon decide whether to end a program providing matching state funds for candidates that agree to spending limits. The Senate approved a measure approving a ballot referendum asking voters to weigh in on repealing the Florida Election Campaign Financing Act. Accessing that money is one way that candidates who are not wealthy can get a leg up to make their cases to the voters.

Florida – DeSantis Staffers Blocked Public Records, Ex-Law Enforcement Officials Say

MSN – Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 2/23/2024

Top aides to Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked the release of records detailing his taxpayer-funded travel and retaliated against those who favored making them public, according to sworn statements from two former Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials. The statements were filed as part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new state law limiting release of the governor’s travel records. The officials describe DeSantis’s staff demanding a close review of many requests from media organizations, often hampering the release of public information.

Georgia – ‘Star Witness’ Testifies His Claims About Fani Willis Were Only ‘Speculation’

MSN – Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2024

A lawyer billed as the “star witness” in the case to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testified it was mere “speculation” when he told a defense attorney that Willis began a romantic relationship in 2019 with the outside lawyer that she appointed to lead the case against Donald Trump, years earlier than Willis has publicly acknowledged. Defense attorneys had claimed his testimony would “refute” claims by Willis and Wade that their romantic relationship began months after Wade was appointed to manage the Trump case.

Hawaii – City Ethics Commission Reviews Gift Prohibitions for Employees

Yahoo News – Ian Bauer (Honolulu Star-Advertiser) | Published: 2/22/2024

A proposal to prohibit city and county of Honolulu employees from accepting gifts related to their official duties is under scrutiny. But Bill 26 is on a tight two-year deadline, with a looming expiration date in April, to either pass or die while it awaits further council review. As drafted, it would prohibit gifts to the mayor, prosecuting attorney, council members, city administration officers, or any person employed by the city, to curb potential conflicts-of-interest or even prevent public corruption.

Illinois – Unlimited Funds Can Flow in State’s Attorney, Board of Review, Circuit Court Clerk Races

MSN – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 2/27/2024

Retired Judge Eileen O’Neill Burke has opened the door for unlimited cash to flow into the Cook County state’s attorney primary, making that race the latest county contest without contribution limits. Candidates can also rake in as much cash as they want in the Circuit Court clerk and the county’s Board of Review races. The shattered contribution limits are thanks to the personal wealth of the candidates or in one case, their main benefactor.

Kentucky – ‘It’s the Metro Council That’s on Trial’: Opening arguments made on day one of Piagentini trial

MSN – Eleanor McCrary (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 2/27/2024

Louisville Metro Council Court began to weigh the removal of member Anthony Piagentini. He is accused of using his position to land a $40 million grant for the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, a nonprofit, to receive federal American Rescue Plan money. He removed himself as a sponsor of the ordinance and did not vote on it, citing a conflict-of-interest. The day after the vote, he accepted a one-year consulting position with the organization.

Kentucky – $25 Million Was Spent in 2023 to Influence KY Legislators. Who Wrote the Biggest Lobbying Checks?

Yahoo News – Austin Horn (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 2/23/2024

How do you try to influence Kentucky’s Legislature and win their favor? Spending nearly $25 million to lobby lawmakers is one way, state records reveal. Despite the odd-numbered short session year, the spending topped the record set in 2022, which was about $22.4 million. Several lobbyists were paid well as a result.

Massachusetts – Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden Is Facing Two Ethics Probes from Separate State Entities

MSN – Danny McDonald (Boston Globe) | Published: 2/24/2024

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden is facing two ethics investigations related to statements he made about his opponent during the 2022 race. The contest to serve a full term as district attorney was Boston city politics at its most bare-knuckled. One of the ethics probes is by the state’s Office of Bar Counsel, which investigates allegations of lawyer misconduct. Hayden is also being investigated by the state ethics commission for similar allegations.

Michigan – Indiana Man Andrew Nickels Indicted in Threats About 2020 Election Results Pleads Guilty

Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 2/27/2024

An Indiana man accused of threatening to kill former Rochester Hills Clerk Tina Barton for defending the integrity of the 2020 presidential election pleaded guilty, a development coinciding with Michigan’s 2024 presidential primary election. Andrew Nickels pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting threats in interstate commerce, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

Michigan – Biden Wins Michigan Primary but Faces Notable Showing by ‘Uncommitted’

MSN – Yasmeen Abutaleb and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2024

President Biden won Michigan’s Democratic primary but faced a challenge from voted selecting “uncommitted” to protest his handling of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, a potential sign of vulnerability for Biden. Donald Trump continued his sweep of early primary contests, but former Nikki Haley appeared poised to garner a significant share of the vote, an indicator of Trump’s own potential vulnerabilities in November’s general election.

Missouri – ‘Dark Cloud’: Ethics investigation of Dean Plocher continues to hang over Missouri House

Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 2/27/2024

Dean Plocher’s last year as Missouri House speaker was not supposed to go this way. He was riding high at the end of the 2023 legislative session, able to point to big wins while pinning any disappointments on continued dysfunction in the state Senate. Ploucher had amassed an impressive campaign fund he hoped would help carry him to the lieutenant governor’s office in the upcoming elections. But in the midst of the 2024 session, things could not get much worse.

Nevada – Judge Blocks 2024 Ballot Initiatives Seeking Independent Redistricting

MSN – Jessica Hill (Las Vegas Review-Journal) | Published: 2/20/2024

A judge ruled that two initiative petitions aiming to change how Nevada redraws state and federal legislative districts were legally deficient and cannot be placed on the 2024 November ballot. The judge sided with Clark County resident Eric Jeng, who argued the petitions violated the state constitution because they would require government funding.

New Hampshire – Democratic Operative Admits to Commissioning Biden AI Robocall in New Hampshire

MSN – Pranshu Verma and Meryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 2/26/2024

Steve Kramer, a longtime Democratic consultant working for presidential candidate Dean Phillips, admitted he commissioned the artificial intelligence-generated robocall of Joe Biden that was sent to New Hampshire voters in January and triggered a state criminal investigation. After the robocall, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a ruling that clarified generating a voice with AI for robocalls is illegal and issued a cease-and-desist letter to Kramer.

New Jersey – N.J. AG Corruption Investigation Focuses on George Norcross’ Influence Over Camden Waterfront Developments, Sources Say

MSN – Andrew Seidman and Jeremy Roebuck (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 2/29/2024

South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross III has found himself under scrutiny from state and federal authorities repeatedly over the last two decades. They have tapped his phones, had an informant record his conversations, and reviewed scores of documents. But they have never filed criminal charges. Now, prosecutors appear to be trying again, this time with a wide-ranging probe by the state attorney general’s office and the FBI.

New York – Democrats Propose Slight Changes to N.Y. Congressional Districts

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 2/27/2024

Democratic state lawmakers unveiled a slightly reconfigured map for New York’s 26 congressional districts they are proposing should be used for the remainder of the decade. The map was issued a day after they voted to reject a bipartisan commission’s map. Republican lawmakers, who had warned they would file new litigation if Democrats created new boundaries that would benefit their candidates, remained relatively quiet as the proposed maps would have only marginal impacts on either party.

New York – NYC’s Public Housing Agency Seeking ‘Restitution’ in Corruption Scheme

Gothamist – Dave Brand and Brittany Kriegstein | Published: 2/27/2024

New York City’s public housing agency will belatedly implement more than a dozen recommendations meant to stop low-level corruption within the next year while seeking “restitution” from employees implicated in a long-running kickback scheme, administrators said. Top officials from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) made the commitments during a city council hearing, three weeks after 70 current and former NYCHA employees were charged with taking cash bribes from vendors in exchange for small repair contracts.

New York – Judge Won’t Delay Trump Financial Penalty but Lets Sons Remain atop Company for Now

MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Mark Berman (Washington Post) | Published: 2/28/2024

A judge rejected a request from Donald Trump to delay enforcement of a judgment totaling at least $4500 million while he appeals that order but allowed the former president’s adult sons to remain in leadership positions at the Trump Organization for the time being. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron had determined Trump and others had given false data to financial institutions and insurance companies so they could borrow money at lower rates and save on costs.

New York – N.Y. Prosecutor Seeks Trump Gag Order, Jury Protections Ahead of 1st Criminal Trial

MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 2/26/2024

Prosecutors preparing for Donald Trump’s first criminal trial in March are seeking a partial gag order to prevent the former president and those speaking on his behalf from disparaging witnesses, jurors, and others involved in the case, and have asked a judge to protect jurors by shielding their names and addresses from public view. The motions show the high stakes and tensions surrounding the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president, one of four prosecutions Trump faces as he closes in on the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

Ohio – A Former Ohio House Speaker Is in Prison. A Top Regulator Is Indicted. But State Lawmakers Still Haven’t Touched Ethics Reform

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 2/25/2024

There is little sign that Ohio lawmakers will pass legislation addressing the largest corruption case in the state’s history, even following the recent indictments of former top state utilities regulator Sam Randazzo and two former FirstEnergy executives, and a 20-year prison sentence for former House Speaker Larry Householder. Randazzo and Householder were charged with accepting millions of dollars in bribe money to secure FirstEnergy’s policy priorities. Democratic lawmakers, who are behind a majority of the reform bills, say it is a reflection of how dominant of a hold Republicans have on the statehouse.

Oklahoma – How Libs of TikTok Became a Powerful Presence in Oklahoma Schools

MSN – Taylor Lorenz (Washington Post) | Published: 2/24/2024

Far-right activist Chaya Raichik splits her time between California, where she is registered to vote, and Florida, where she often travels. But the place where she arguably is having the biggest impact these days is Oklahoma, a state she has visited only once. Raichik, who operates the social media account Libs of TikTok, has amassed an audience of millions on X, largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people. In January, Raichik was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee.

Oregon – Lawmakers Push to Pass Oregon Campaign Finance Limits in Next 2 Weeks, Amid Concerns About Loopholes

MSN – Carlos Fuentes (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 2/24/2024

Oregon lawmakers from both parties indicated that passing campaign finance limits has become a priority this legislative session. During a hearing in the House Rules Committee, lawmakers, union leaders, and lobbyists for business groups testified in support of House Bill 4024, a compromise to restrict campaign contributions and require additional disclosure of political spending.

Oregon – Portland, Businesses Push for Public Records Exemption Amid Pending Release of Which Firms Paid Clean Energy Tax

MSN – Shane Dixon Kavanaugh (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 2/28/2024

Oregon lawmakers are considering a change to the state’s public records law as Portland officials and business groups attempt to block the release of information related to the city’s voter-approved climate fund. But journalists have raised alarms that the proposal could have broad unintended consequences that would lessen government accountability.

Pennsylvania – McClelland’s Pa. Treasurer Campaign Raised and Spent Money Months Before It Officially Existed

Pennsylvania Capital-Star – Peter Hall | Published: 2/28/2024

Erin McClelland, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state treasurer, campaigned and accepted donations months before registering a fundraising committee with the Pennsylvania Department of State, as candidates for state office are required to do. While McClelland’s campaign chairperson said the donations and spending were properly reported to Allegheny County, election law experts say Pennsylvania’s campaign finance reporting rules are clear that statewide candidates must report their campaign donations and spending to the state.

Pennsylvania – Philly’s Ethics Board Is Changing the Rules at the Heart of Its Fight with the ‘Super PAC’ That Backed Jeff Brown’s Bid for Mayor

Philadelphia Inquirer – Sean Collins Walsh | Published: 2/21/2024

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics is moving to amend city campaign finance regulations in the wake of its botched lawsuit against the super PAC that supported Jeff Brown’s unsuccessful campaign in last year’s mayoral election. A notable change would clarify what constitutes illegal coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees. That issue was at the center of the legal fight between the ethics board, Brown, and the super PAC supporting him.

Pennsylvania – Transparency and Accountability: Pennsylvania lawmakers target dark money in campaigns

WESA – Ben Wasserstein | Published: 2/26/2024

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations and nonprofits to make unlimited hidden contributions to political causes. While Pennsylvania cannot override this federal decision, one state lawmaker believes it can make those entities more transparent with their spending. Rep. Joe Webster is proposing legislation that would require the disclosure of corporate expenditures on elections and limit donations, among other provisions.

Rhode Island – Providence NAACP President Found Guilty of Violating Campaign Finance Laws

MSN – Steph Machado (Boston Globe) | Published: 2/28/2024

The president of the Providence NAACP was found guilty of violating state campaign finance laws when he ran for city council in 2022. District Court Judge Anthony Capraro sentenced Gerard Catala to 20 hours of community service and a one-year filing, which means the case can be expunged if Catala stays out of trouble for a year. In handing down the sentence, Capraro noted Catala was given ample time and latitude to come into compliance with campaign finance laws, but it appeared “he just didn’t seem to want to.”

Virginia – Virginia’s Finance Reform Bill to Prevent Personal Use of Campaign Funds Defeated Again

MSN – Sarah Rankin (Associated Press) | Published: 2/28/2024

Virginia lawmakers defeated campaign finance reform legislation that would have prohibited elected officials from spending donations on personal expenses such as mortgages, vacations, or gym memberships. Virginia – which allows unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, and special interest groups – is a national outlier for lacking such a ban, and advocates at the General Assembly have been trying for more than a decade to put personal use restrictions on candidates’ spending.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Ethics Commission Alleges Illegal Scheme by Trump Fundraising Committee and Rep. Janel Brandtjen

MSN – Molly Beck (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 2/23/2024

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission recommended that state prosecutors file felony charges against a fundraising committee for Donald Trump and a state lawmaker related to an effort to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The commission alleges Save America PAC and Rep. Janel Brandtjen conspired in a scheme to evade campaign donation limits to support the Republican primary challenger to Vos in 2022, steering at least $40,000 to the bid.

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