News You Can Use Digest - March 10, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

March 10, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 10, 2023


Group Seeks Disbarment of a Trump-Aligned Lawyer for a Key Jan. 6 Witness

DNyuz – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 3/6/2023

In appearing before the January 6 committee last year, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted Donald Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to the attacks on the Capitol, shared how her original lawyer had tried to influence her testimony. While represented by Stefan Passantino, Cassidy told the committee she remembered little. But after hiring a different lawyer, she provided damaging details about Trump and disclosed Passantino pressured her to protect Trump. Now, several dozen prominent legal figures are seeking to revoke Passantino’s license to practice law.

Election Deniers Take Aim at Group That Helps States Maintain Voter Rolls

MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/6/2023

At a time of hyperpolarization over voting and elections, Democrats and Republicans had largely managed to agree on one thing – that a little-known data-sharing consortium of more than 30 states has helped keep voter rolls updated and free of opportunities for fraud. But the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) has been straining lately under the weight of accusations and misinformation from election deniers. Now, ERIC’s survival is in jeopardy. Should ERIC collapse, its boosters say the country would lose one of its most powerful tools for keeping ballot fraud at bay just as states are beginning to prepare for the 2024 elections.

John Fetterman Sponsored a Bill from the Hospital. Here’s What He Can and Can’t Do in the Senate During Treatment.

MSN – Jonathan Tamari (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/7/2023

Despite remaining hospitalized while undergoing treatment for depression, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman cosponsored a bill to avert future crises like the one unfolding after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Fetterman’s office says it is one example of how he is staying engaged with his job. In the face of scrutiny on his recovery, and questions about his long-term health after a stroke in May, Fetterman’s team points to the early activity to argue he is still able to fulfill key aspects of his new job.

Trump Can Be Sued by Police Over Jan. 6 Riot, Justice Department Says

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2023

Former President Trump can be held liable in court for the actions of the mob that overtook the Capitol January 6, 2021, the Justice Department said. Two officers with the U.S. Capitol Police, joined by 11 Democratic House members, are seeking to hold Trump liable for physical and psychological injuries they suffered during the riot. Trump has argued he is protected from the lawsuit by the absolute immunity conferred on a president performing his official duties.

Met Gala Getup Gets Ethics Review for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 3/2/2023

The House ethics committee published findings from an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on allegations she failed to pay in a timely manner for rental clothes, accessories, and services related to her attendance at the 2021 Met Gala. The report states Ocasio-Cortez may have “accepted impermissible gifts” in connection with the September 2021 event in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law.

House Ethics Committee Launches Investigation of Rep. George Santos

MSN – Amy Wang and Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2023

The House Committee on Ethics will investigate U.S. Rep. George Santos, who has admitted to fabricating large swaths of his biography and who has been accused of breaking campaign finance laws. The committee voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to look into a litany of claims about the freshman congressman, including about his past business practices, campaign finance expenditures, and an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Trump Spurred ‘Existential Crisis’ at Fox News, Lawsuit Exhibits Show

MSN – Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023

For years, Fox News executives and hosts cultivated a close relationship with Donald Trump. But after he lost the 2020 presidential election and turned his back on the network – inspiring many once-loyal viewers to do the same – the relationship curdled. The ensuing pressure caused tension, second-guessing, and infighting within Fox on the scale of an “existential crisis,” as one senior executive called it, a cache of internal communications released as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit indicates.

‘Just a Lie’: Senate Republicans blast Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 narrative

MSN – Paul Kane, Marianna Sotomayor, Liz Goodwin, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023

Senate Republicans blasted Fox News for airing a show that twisted details of the attack on the U.S. Capitol into a conspiracy-fueled narrative, breaking ranks with House GOP colleagues who cheered on the show. From Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to rank-and-file lawmakers, Republican senators largely rejected Fox personality Tucker Carlson’s vision of the deadly insurrection as a mostly peaceful protest that involved little violence. The criticism from left House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the defensive following his decision to grant Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of video from Capitol Police security cameras that day.

Trump-Endorsed Congressional Candidate Admits Taking Illegal Donation

MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 3/8/2023

A failed congressional candidate pleaded guilty to committing a felony campaign finance violation during her bid to replace former U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a political ally and family friend, after Meadows chose not to seek reelection. Lynda Bennett admitted she borrowed $25,000 from a family member in 2019 and illegally funneled the money, in her own name, into her Republican campaign in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.

New Democratic Digital Firm Wants to Make Candidate Fundraising Less Annoying

MSN – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 3/8/2023

As 2024 Race Begins, Special Counsel Advances with Focus on Trump Lawyers

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Spencer Hsu, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 3/3/2023

The actions of federal prosecutors investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election highlight the ways in which the probes are unusual and complex – turning some of Donald Trump’s many current or former attorneys into witnesses or potential investigative targets. Special counsel Jack Smith’s pace appears to be quickening as the 2024 presidential election starts to take shape, with Trump once again a candidate. Legal experts say if Smith brings criminal charges against Trump, they would likely be pending when the GOP primary debates begin in August.

More Black Women Run for Office, but Prospects Fade the Higher They Go

Yahoo News – Jazmine Ulloa (New York Times) | Published: 3/8/2023

Black women have made tremendous gains: Kamala Harris broke barriers as the nation’s first Black, Asian American and female vice president. More Black women are leading major cities, and many more have sought U.S. Senate seats and governorships. But winning those offices still poses enduring challenges for women of color, and Black women in particular. Many confront both blatant racism and sexism, along with subtler forms of racial and gender bias that, candidates said, make it more difficult for them to raise money to pay for the costly work of hiring staff and buying advertising in expensive markets.

GOP Bill Would Bar Fellow Rep. George Santos from Profiting from Campaign Lies

Yahoo News – Michael McAuliff (New York Daily News) | Published: 3/7/2023

U.S. Rep. George Santos should not be able to cash in on his infamy, a group of Republican lawmakers declared. They introduced a pair of bills that they said would block him from profiting from his web of lies. Santos’ notoriety soared after reports revealed much of his life story that he campaigned on could not be confirmed. Among other things, he claimed to be the descendent of Jews who fled the holocaust, that he worked for Goldman Sachs, and that his mother died in the Twin Towers on September 11, none of which appears to be true.


Canada – Doug Ford’s Campaign Finance Law Struck Down by Court

Toronto Star – Robert Benzie | Published: 3/6/2023

The Ontario Court of Appeal struck down Premier Doug Ford’s controversial campaign finance law that limits spending by unions and other third parties. The court gave Ford’s government “12 months to allow Ontario to fashion Charter-compliant legislation.” The coalition of plaintiffs argued their members’ rights were unfairly hindered by the law preventing third-party PACs from spending more than $600,000 on advertising and other activities in the 12 months before an election.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Arizona Sues After County Puts an Election Skeptic in Charge of Voting

DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 3/8/2023

An Arizona county is being sued by the state’s attorney general after it transferred voting oversight to the county’s Republican recorder, who has cast doubts about past election results in a place where former President. Trump won nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2020. It is the latest clash between Democrats in statewide office and Cochise County, a deeply Republican area in southeastern Arizona, where conspiracy theories about voter fraud and irregularities still swirl.

Arizona – Judge Orders Sanctions Against Arizona GOP Candidate Who Refused to Accept Loss

MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 3/6/2023

A judge ordered sanctions against Mark Finchem and his attorney over false claims they made about election fraud after Finchem, the Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, lost his race in November and refused to accept the results. Weeks after the election, Finchem sued his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes, and then-Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, challenging the results of the vote and requesting that a new election be held. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Iyer Julian tossed his suit in December, saying it was groundless.

California – Ninth Circuit Upholds San Francisco Initiative Donor Disclosure Rules

Courthouse News Service – Eric Burkett | Published: 3/8/2023

A federal appeals court panel affirmed a lower court ruling that said providing the public with information about donors of ballot measures is in the public interest. San Franciscans Supporting Prop B sued in 2022, protesting the city’s requirement that committees must run a message disclosing their campaign’s top three donors of $5,000 or more at the top of campaign ads.

California – Nonprofits, Neighborhood Groups Push Back Against Rule That Would Regulate Them as Lobbyists

Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 3/6/2023

As the Long Beach Ethics Commission readies its recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance, community groups, nonprofits, and others are apprehensive over what it could mean for the future of their ability to engage with city officials. The law has exempted nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, and business improvement districts. But that could soon change, according to proposed amendments that could be sent to the city council.

California – Ex-SF Department Head to Get $4K Fine After City Hall Scandal

San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 3/7/2023

Yahoo News – Matt Hamilton and Katie Licari (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/6/2023

When a federal grand jury indicted Mark Ridley-Thomas on corruption charges, the veteran Los Angeles politician protested his innocence and vowed to fight. There was one problem: how would he pay his lawyers? The lifelong civil servant lost his income after the city council suspended him, and the city controller halted his salary and benefits. Then a network of supporters opened their wallets. These donors helped him amass nearly $1.5 million in two defense funds and allowed him to retain an elite legal team.

Georgia – Ga. Republicans Push for Prosecutorial Oversight Amid Trump Election Probe

MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023

Georgia’s Republican legislators are pushing bills that would make it easier to remove local prosecutors from office, an effort that prominent Democratic prosecutors have decried as “dangerous” overreach. The move comes as Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Lewis considers bring charges against former President Trump and his allies over 2020 election interference. GOP lawmakers have said the measures are needed to rein in reform-minded prosecutors and crack down on crime.

Idaho – Rape Victim Sues Idaho Lawmakers for Outing and Harassing Her

Courthouse News Service – Edvard Pettersson | Published: 3/8/2023

A woman who was raped by former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger sued him and state Rep. Priscilla Giddings for allegedly outing and harassing her after she came forward with her allegations. Jane Doe reported the rape, and the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into her allegations. This prompted von Ehlinger to provide unredacted copies of his confidential response to the committee, which contained intimate details about Doe, and to the media. The conservative online publication Redoubt News then ran a story that included a photo of Doe when she was a minor.

Idaho – The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College

Yahoo News – Charles Homans (New York Times) | Published: 3/6/2023

For most of the past two years, North Idaho College’s (NIC) governing board has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance. Trustees backed by the county Republican Party hold a majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.” The injection of such sweeping political aims into the routine administration of a community college of 4,600 students, one better known locally for its technical training programs than the politics of its faculty, has devolved into a full-blown crisis.

Illinois – Vallas Loans $100,100 to His Bid for Mayor, Lifting State Limits on Campaign Contributions

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 3/2/2023

Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson can now raise nearly unlimited amounts of cash for their campaigns for mayor of Chicago after Vallas loaned $100,100 to his campaign. Had Vallas not contributed more than $100,000 to his campaign, state-imposed donation limits would have been in place for the April 4 runoff. Caps on contributions imposed by city law remain in place.

Kansas – As Special Interests Try to Influence Kansas Lawmakers, Some Want to Loosen the Rules

MSN – Jonathan Shorman and Katie Bernard (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/6/2023

In response to a sprawling campaign finance investigation by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Republican lawmakers authored a bill that would expand the ability of legislators to seek campaign contributions during the legislative session. It would also substantially weaken the commission’s investigatory powers, including its authority to issue subpoenas. Collectively, the changes could shift the balance of power between lawmakers and special interests, campaign finance experts and other critics of the legislation argue.

Louisiana – Council Opens Investigation of Cantrell Mailer and Lobbying Firm Connected to Vitter, Scalise – John Stanton | Published: 3/8/2023

The New Orleans City Council opened an investigation into a mailer touting Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s work in office and whether she hired a public relations firm represented by former U.S. Sen. David Vitter and a former top aide to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. The mailer was sent to thousands of city voters at taxpayer expense as organizers of a campaign to recall the mayor faced a February 22 deadline. The mailer appears to violate several state laws, including a prohibition of using public funds to produce ads that feature an elected official’s name or likeness.

Maryland – Baltimore Bought $30,000 in Tickets to CIAA Tournament; Officials Strike Deal for Lower Price Amid Questions

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/8/2023

As Baltimore makes a play to continue as host for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, the pressure has been on city officials to show their enthusiasm. Visit Baltimore President Al Hutchinson appeared at a city council meeting to encourage council members and their families to attend. He also said Visit Baltimore, the city’s nonprofit marketing group, would give each council member a free ticket to the final games of the tournament. Visit Baltimore’s offer, however, proved not to be aligned with the city’s ethics ordinance.

Massachusetts – Campaign Finance Regulators Investigating Whether MassGOP Coordinated with Super PAC, in Violation of Law

MSN – Emma Platoff (Boston Globe) | Published: 3/6/2023

State campaign finance regulators are investigating whether the Massachusetts Republican Party coordinated with an outside super PAC, in a potential violation of state law. E-mails show Jim Lyons, the former state GOP chairperson, sent multiple messages last fall to Antoine Nader, chair of the Mass Freedom Independent Expenditure PAC, referring to opposition research Lyons had solicited on Maura Healey during her bid for governor.

Minnesota – Tighter Lobbyist Rules Considered at Capitol Would Get at Disclosure of Topics Lobbied, Not Just Paper Clips

MinnPost – Peter Callaghan | Published: 3/2/2023

Three years of negotiations between the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and people who lobby the Legislature has produced an agreement to tighten disclosure rules. The deal is found in Senate File 2121 that has bipartisan sponsorship. It would update decades-old rules that required lobbyists to disclose how much they spent on phones and postage but did not require them to disclose many details about which issues they were trying to influence. The bill requires more specifics in twice-a-year lobbyist reports and the annual reports by the companies and organizations that hire lobbyists.

Minnesota – Session Fundraising Lockdown Doesn’t Close Off All Avenues

MPR – Brian Bakst | Published: 3/2/2023

A long-standing law in Minnesota restricts certain political donations during the regular legislative session but it is not the barrier to influence that it has been held up to be. Major political groups and state parties remain open for contributions. They also can rely on the same officials restricted by law, such as registered lobbyists or associations with matters before the Legislature, to draw donors to fundraisers as long as the lawmakers are not called hosts.

New Jersey – The Last New Jersey Reporter on Capitol Hill Just Got Laid Off

MSN – Elahe Izadi (Washington Post) | Published: 3/4/2023

As Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Newark Star-Ledger and several affiliated media outlets, Jonathan Salant combed through campaign finance reports, monitored voting patterns, and cornered members of Congress in Capitol hallways to answer his questions – until he was laid off. Even at a time of mass layoffs across the news industry, Salant’s recent dismissal caused alarm in both Washington and New Jersey, with the same politicians he so closely scrutinized protesting the decision and imploring the newspaper’s parent company to reverse it.

New Mexico – Lawmakers Pass Legislation Through the Senate Specifying Standards of Political Conduct

Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/8/2023

Bills to ensure professionalism and safety at the Capitol are making their way through the New Mexico Legislature. Rep. Kathleen Cates said the legislation was spurred because the state Supreme Court held that New Mexico’s main anti-corruption provisions are not specific enough to be criminally enforceable.

Oregon – Oregon Democrats Say They’re Serious About Capping Political Donations, but Their Proposals Include Loopholes

MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/8/2023

Oregon – Portland Cop-Stacked Firm Loses City’s Truth-and-Reconciliation Contract After No-Bid Process

MSN – Maxine Bernstein (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/8/2023

City officials were set last year to award a $200,000 contract for a truth and reconciliation project to a firm stacked with retired Portland police officers as advisers until a tip revealed that the city failed to seek competitive bids. TrustLab had no track record of doing the kind of restorative justice work the project demanded: improving trust between Portland police and city residents, the city auditor’s office found. The city has since put bids on indefinite hold.

Pennsylvania – Pa. House Lawmaker Accused of Sexual Harassment Says He Will Resign

Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 3/8/2023

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Zabel, who is accused of sexually harassing multiple people including two sitting state lawmakers, said he will resign. His decision comes a week after union lobbyist Andi Perez publicly accused him of sexually harassing her, and the same day that state Rep. Abby Major made a similar accusation. At least two other people have accused Zabel of similar harassment. One is a sitting lawmaker who has requested anonymity; the other is Zabel’s former campaign manager, Colleen Kennedy, who wrote a public essay about his behavior.

Rhode Island – Can a Firefighter Preside Over Firefighter Bills? Here’s What the RI Ethics Commission Said

Yahoo News – Katherine Gregg (Providence Journal) | Published: 3/7/2023

State Rep. Stephen Casey, a Woonsocket firefighter, won Rhode Island Ethics Commission clearance to preside over hearings and vote on a package of bills sought by the state’s firefighter lobby. While the Ethics Code bars public officials from taking part “in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest,” there is what is broadly called “a class exception.”

South Dakota – Bill to Ban South Dakota Lawmakers’ Spouses from Being Private Lobbyists Fails

Yahoo News – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 3/6/2023

Texas – Changes to City Lobbying Rules OK’d by Ethics Review Commission

Austin Monitor – Chad Swiatecki | Published: 3/6/2023

The Ethics Review Commission approved a series of amendments to Austin’s lobbying regulations. The city clerk’s office suggested them to clarify issues regarding lobbyists’ registration and renewal fees and quarterly activity reports, as well as how the city levies the $50 late fees when filings and payments are late. The changes are set to be voted on by the city council on March 23.

Texas – Houston PAC Leaders Face $45K in Fines for Operating Illegally, Not Filing Finance Reports

MSN – Yilun Cheng (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 3/2/2023

The state Ethics Commission issued a $45,000 fine for Terrence Shanks and Damella Wilkerson, the president and the director of finance of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County for operating without a campaign treasurer, failing to file required reports, and possibly selling endorsements to local candidates. PACs are required to submit semiannual reports. The last time the PAC filed a report was in 2014. Since then, however, it has continued to carry out political activities, including publishing endorsements lists that included candidates who have donated to the group, commission investigators found.

Virginia – Virginia General Assembly Adjourns for 2023 After Passing Modest Campaign Finance Reform

OpenSecrets – Jimmy Cloutier | Published: 2/28/2023

The Virginia General Assembly ended the 2023 legislative session having passed only one campaign finance bill to the dismay of activists who say the state’s election laws need reform. Virginia’s laws governing political spending are among the least restrictive in the country. Under this system, total state-level fundraising in legislative races more than tripled over the last two decades. The legislation that passed, Senate Bill 1427, would expand disclosure laws by creating new filing deadlines and require PACs to report large donations more frequently.

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