News You Can Use Digest - March 11, 2022 - State and Federal Communications

March 11, 2022  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 11, 2022


Big K Street Shops Will Close Offices in Russia
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 3/9/2022

Some of K Street’s biggest firms said they were winding down, or at least reevaluating, operations in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and sanctions that followed. Ceasing operations in Moscow are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Squire Patton Boggs, two of Washington’s long-standing lobbying and legal powerhouses. Greenberg Traurig, which has an office in Poland but not in Russia, said it planned to donate up to $2 million for relief efforts and offer pro bono legal services for Ukrainian refugees.

Inside the Jan. 6 Committee’s Effort to Trace Every Dollar Raised and Spent Based on Trump’s False Election Claims
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Jacqueline Alemany, and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 3/8/2022

The House select committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol wants to know whether the Trump campaign, its affiliated super PACs, the Republican National Committee, and protest organizers knowingly used false claims the election was stolen to dupe donors and raise large sums of cash. The primary objective is to determine whether email solicitations spreading false claims of election fraud served as a source of misinformation, prompting the need to make proposals for strengthening campaign finance laws. The committee will also consider if any laws were broken and refer those to the Justice Department.

Judge Denies Fox News Motion to Dismiss Defamation Suit by Election-Tech Company Smartmatic
MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 3/9/2022

A judge allowed an election technology company’s $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News to proceed though he dismissed specific claims made against host Jeanine Pirro and two of the network’s guests. New York Supreme Court Judge David Cohen denied Fox’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which the company, Smartmatic, alleged the network and several of its on-air personalities “decimated its future business prospects” by falsely accusing it of rigging the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

Lobbyists Urge Lawmakers to Let Them Roam the Capitol Again
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 3/4/2022

After two years of pandemic- and insurrection-related security restrictions, some lobbyists are putting their advocacy skills toward an effort to reopen the legislative buildings on Capitol Hill widely to tour groups and lobbying coalitions. Currently, lobbyists may conduct in-person meetings on Capitol Hill, so long as a congressional aide signs them in and escorts them around the buildings. Not all lobbyists believe the Capitol is ready for an onslaught of visitors.

Republican Clash Shows the Enduring Appeal, and Dubious Benefit, of Campaign Platforms
MSN – Mike DeBonis and Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 3/3/2022

Political manifestos like U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s “Resuce America” plan have proliferated over the past three decades, becoming a staple of party messaging, an instrument of policy development and, in some cases, a vehicle for personal ambitions. But since 1994, when Republicans rode their “Contract With America” to their first House majority in 40 years, they have been increasingly ignored by voters, mocked by observers, and shown to be largely irrelevant to the task of actually winning elections. Yet party leaders keep sinking untold time and effort into agendas that have produced uneven dividends.

Russian-American Charged with Acting as Illegal Russian Agent in the US
CNN – Sonia Moghe | Published: 3/8/2022

A dual Russian-American citizen was charged with acting as a spy in the U.S., according to court filings  that say she ran organizations that “sought to spread Russian propaganda.” Elena Branson was charged with conspiring to act illegally as an agent of the Russian government, willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and other charges. Branson worked on behalf of the Russian government and officials to advance their interests in the U.S. Prosecutors allege she coordinated meetings for Russians to lobby American officials and businesspeople, and operated groups to publicly promote Russian government policies.

Supreme Court Denies GOP Requests to Block New Congressional Maps in N.C., Pa.
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2022

The U.S. Supreme Court refused requests from Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to block new congressional maps approved by courts in those states, meaning the fall elections will be held in districts more favorable to Democrats than the ones created by the GOP-led state Legislatures. Three of the court’s dissenting conservatives – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch – said they would have intervened, and they thought the theory advanced by the challengers was probably correct and they are eager to consider such a challenge.

Texas Militia Member Convicted on All Charges in First Jan. 6 Trial
MSN – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 3/8/2022

Guy Reffitt, a Texas militia member who was at the head of an early wave of rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was found guilty of all five felony charges he faced related to the assault, including obstruction of an official proceeding, carrying a firearm during the attack, and threatening witnesses. The verdict is an important milestone for the Justice Department in the first jury trial since the attack that threatened the presidential transfer of power. The Reffitt trial is the first of potentially dozens stemming from the insurrection.

U.S. Judge Dismisses Most Serious Federal Charge Against Jan. 6 Capitol Riot Defendant
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 3/8/2022

A federal judge ruled the Justice Department cannot charge January 6 defendants with obstructing Congress’s certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory unless they tampered with official documents or records in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. In striking down the lead charge brought in the government’s Capitol siege investigation, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, District Court Judge Carl Nichols broke with all other U.S. trial judges in Washington who have ruled on the question in Capitol riot cases to date. The decision tosses a wrench into the felony prosecutions of as many as 275 arrested individuals.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Decision Lifts Certain Contribution Limits in Alaska
Associated Press News – Becky Rohrer | Published: 3/4/2022

Alaska will have unlimited campaign contributions in most instances after the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) declined to impose new caps after old limits were struck down as unconstitutional. A draft opinion suggested the limits in place before those that were struck down “apply as adjusted for inflation,” which included proposed limits of $1,500 per calendar year for individuals to candidates. Campaigns were to adhere to the draft opinion until APOC weighed in. The commission also declined to index donation amounts for inflation. APOC said there were legal questions about whether it had the power to do those things.

Arizona Arizona Lawmaker Speaks to White Nationalists, Calls for Violence – and Sets Fundraising Records
MSN – Beth Reinhard and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/8/2022

State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Republican lawmaker who represents tens of thousands of constituents, has found a rising national profile as a face of the radicalized wing of the Republican Party. After a year of fanning bogus allegations about election fraud and other false claims, she is the most successful fundraiser in the Arizona Legislature. While her support for former President Trump’s election falsehoods puts her in line with many Republicans, Rogers has moved farther to the edges of American politics: calling for jailing and executing her political opponents, identifying herself as a member of the Oath Keepers militia group, and attending a conference organized by a group linked to QAnon.

California Candidate Alleges Sheriff Villanueva’s Radio Show Violates Election, Broadcasting Rules
MSN – Alene Tchekmedyian (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/8/2022

A candidate for Los Angeles County sheriff filed complaints with state and federal agencies alleging that Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s weekly radio show on violates election and broadcasting rules. County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera’s complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleges the show amounted to an illegal campaign donation by KFI to Villanueva. Vera said KFI charges more than $1,000 for a 30-second radio ad, which he said would put Villanueva’s segments well above the $3,000 limit a person or entity can contribute to a candidate.

Colorado Grand Jury Indicts Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and Deputy Clerk in Election System Breach Investigation
Canon City Daily Camera – Saja Hindi (Denver Post) | Published: 3/9/2022

A grand jury returned 10 criminal counts against Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters and six counts against Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley in its investigation of potential election equipment security breach. The charges stem from local, state, and federal investigations launched into the potential breach after the Colorado secretary of state sued Peters, a 2020 election denier, and Knisley over allegedly allowing an unauthorized man access to make copies of voting equipment servers. Passwords from the equipment were later posted online by Ron Watkins, a leading figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Florida Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former JEA Executives on Conspiracy, Wire Fraud
Yahoo News – Nate Monroe and David Bauerlein (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 3/7/2022

A grand jury indictment charged former JEA Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn and finance chief Ryan Wannemacher with conspiracy and wire fraud, casting the two men as the architects of a brazen scheme to secretly extract tens of millions of dollars of personal profit out of the city-owned utility before selling it to a private operator. Prosecutors allege almost every aspect of the failed effort to privatize one of Jacksonville’s largest and most important public agencies was a fraud, echoing the past findings of auditors, outside attorneys, a city council investigation, and media reporting.

Florida Florida Lawmakers Approve an Elections Police Force, the First of Its Kind in the U.S.
MSN – Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 3/9/2022

Two months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a plan for a powerful elections police force that would answer to him, state lawmakers passed a watered-down version that barely resembles what the governor asked for, but still worries voting rights advocates. DeSantis had asked for nearly $6 million to hire 52 people, including sworn officers, to investigate alleged violations of elections laws. The Republican-led House and Senate instead gave him about $2.5 million for the new Office of Election Crimes and Security.

Florida Senate Passes Citizen Initiative Limits on Out-of-State Influence, Awaits House Answer
Florida Politics – Renzo Downey | Published: 3/7/2022

A bill to curb out-of-state influence in the ballot initiative process was amended after it was struck down last year. Because senators approved changes they hoped would avoid a second injunction in the courts, the bill must next return to the House. The proposal would limit non-Floridians from donating more than $3,000, and out-of-state political committees from receiving donations worth more than $3,000, when it comes to ballot initiatives in the petition-gathering process.

Florida Tallahassee Commissioners Move Some Ethics Changes, Shoot Down Lobbyist Logs
Florida Politics – Tristan Wood | Published: 3/9/2022

The Tallahassee City Commission moved forward with some ethics ordinance changes but decided against making major changes to lobbying rules. The commission voted to implement new language in the misuse of public position ordinance so that it no longer requires intent. Commissioners did ban city lobbyists from being paid contingency fees but voted down other changes, such as amending the city’s definition of lobbyist.

Florida Tallahassee Officials’ Trip After FSU Stadium Vote Raises Questions – Jeff Burlew (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 3/8/2022

The morning after a contentious meeting to finalize funding for Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter ended up on the same flight as a group of public officials, including Leon County Administrator Vince Long and City Manager Reese Goad, who collectively oversee Blueprint, an agency that implements infrastructure projects in the area. Also on the flight was State Attorney Jack Campbell and Ben Pingree, who directs the city and county department of planning, land management, and community enhancement. The trip on its face did not appear to run afoul of Florida’s Sunshine Law, said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability.

Georgia First Trial in Atlanta Corruption Investigation Set to Start
Yahoo News – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 3/8/2022

A political consultant who was a top aide to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is the first person set to go to trial in a long-running federal investigation into corruption at City Hall. Mitzi Bickers helped Reed win election in 2009 and worked as the city’s director of human services. She is accused, among other things, of taking bribes to use her influence to steer city work to two contractors. Others ensnared in the investigation have pleaded guilty and been sent to prison, but Bickers has maintained her innocence.

Georgia Kemp Appeals Ruling on Leadership Committee Funds in Primary
Yahoo News – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 3/9/2022

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that says a “leadership committee” the governor created under a new state law cannot spend money to get him reelected during the Republican primary. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging the governor in the primary. Perdue and his campaign allege the law gives Kemp an unfair fundraising and spending advantage in the primary.

Illinois Former Sen. Tom Cullerton Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement
Illinois Newsroom – Peter Hancock (Capital News Illinois) | Published: 3/8/2022

Former Illinois Sen. Tom Cullerton pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and could face more than a year in federal prison. Cullerton admitted he received pay and benefits from the Teamsters union during 2015 while doing little or no work. In addition to his salary, prosecutors alleged, Cullerton also received bonuses and health care benefits. Cullerton was indicted in 2019 on 40 counts of embezzlement, one for each biweekly paycheck he received from January 2015 through January 2016, a period of time when he also served in the state Senate.

Illinois Former Veterans Affairs Chief Wrote Checks Totaling $50,000 to Her Mom from Her Political Fund
Better Government Association – Rachel Hinton | Published: 3/2/2022

The former head of the Illinois’ Veterans Affairs office used her campaign fund to write two checks totaling $50,000 to her mother, a move state elections officials say could be a violation of election laws. Linda Chapa LaVia said the checks, logged as January expenditures in her required campaign filings, were to repay a loan her mother made to help her start her political career about two decades ago. But records show her campaign made no disclosure of a loan to her committee, launched ahead of her successful campaign to become a state representative. It also does not show up in the original documents creating her fundraising committee.

Kansas Lawmakers May Change How Kansas Supreme Court Justices Are Picked as Redistricting Case Looms
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 3/7/2022

Lawmakers are considering changes to a six-decade-old system of selecting judges to the Kansas Supreme Court, at a time when the high court is on the cusp of hearing a landmark challenge to a set of GOP-authored congressional maps. Republican legislators insist the renewed push to end so-called merit selection of judges is unrelated to the redistricting lawsuits moving through the court system, which are all-but-certain to eventually arrive at the Supreme Court. They argue the move is needed to ensure Kansans have a voice in selecting jurists on the state’s highest court, either directly or via members of the Senate.

Kentucky Metro Council Approves New Financial Disclosure Rules for Louisville Officials
WFPL – Roberto Roldan | Published: 3/4/2022

Elected officials in Louisville will now have to make yearly disclosures of their financial and business ties under new rules approved by Metro Council. The requirement will also apply to candidates for public office and city workers who can award contracts. City officials are already required to recuse themselves from making legal or contract decisions if they have a conflict-of-interest. But previously, there was no mandate for them to report much of their finances, making it hard to know when a conflict existed.

Massachusetts State Senate Hires a Pay Consultant in Wake of Report That Says Staff Pay ‘Breaks with Best Practice’
MSN – Samantha Gross (Boston Globe) | Published: 3/3/2022

A salary study commissioned by the Massachusetts Senate but never publicly released found fault with the chamber’s hiring and pay practices for its staffers, concluding the approach “can be perceived as lacking fairness” and may lead to “problematic staff turnover.” Fourteen current and former legislative staff said the pay inequities are driving high turnover that hinders the Legislature’s ability to perform its basic functions, such as serving constituents and drafting legislation.

Michigan Michigan Redistricting Panel Finished Maps Month Ago. Why Is It Still Meeting?
Bridge Michigan – Sergio Martínez-Beltrán | Published: 3/8/2022

Despite approving the new congressional and state legislative maps over two months ago, the Michigan redistricting commission continues to meet, and commissioners continue to get paid. That is partly because there is no clear expiration date for the group created in 2018 by a voter-approved constitutional amendment that some observers and experts now say was too vague.

Nevada Judge Blocks GOP-Backed Redistricting Lawsuit for 2022 Election
Nevada Independent – Riley Snider | Published: 3/9/2022

Republican-backed efforts to challenge Nevada’s electoral maps in court on the heels of redistricting are likely on hold. A decision by Senior District Court Judge Robert Estes will have the likely effect of keeping the new legislative district maps, which largely favor Democrats, in place for the 2022 election. Estes said it would be “not fair” to interrupt the ongoing election process and two-week candidate filing period and the “election is going to proceed” under the boundary lines adopted after November’s special legislative session.

New York Cuomo Doesn’t Say Whether He’s Running for Office. The Board of Elections Implies He Is.
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 3/8/2022

Despite calls to investigate the use of campaign money for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent ads, the New York State Board of Elections will not be doing so. Cuomo has been mounting a public-relations campaign akin to a political one recently. He has run ads intended to repair his reputation after his resignation amid mounting scandals. The board’s chief enforcement counsel said the law “does not prohibit a former office holder, or anyone else from using campaign funds to test the waters for a future political candidacy.” Whether Cuomo is intending to seek public office or using the pretense of a run to use his $16.4 million campaign fund to help clear his name is a moot point to good government groups.

New York How the Manhattan D.A.’s Investigation into Donald Trump Unraveled
MSN – Ben Protess, William Rashbaum, and Jonah Bromwich (New York Times) | Published: 3/5/2022

Two senior prosecutors stood before the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, detailing their strategy for proving Donald Trump knew his annual financial statements were works of fiction. They needed Bragg to decide whether to seek criminal charges, but Bragg and his senior aides had doubts. They hammered Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne about whether they could show Trump had intended to break the law by inflating the value of his assets in the statements, a necessary element to prove the case. The meeting started a series of events that brought the investigation of Trump to a sudden halt, prompted the two prosecutors to resign.

New York Inspector General Investigates JCOPE ‘Hot Mic’ Episode
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/7/2022

The state inspector general’s office is investigating a breach of confidentiality at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, spurred by a complaint filed by an attorney representing former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At an August 26 meeting, JCOPE had ended its opening public portion and gone into what was supposed to be a closed executive session. But the live audio could still be heard for another 10 minutes, and the public was privy to discussion of a confidential investigation related to Cuomo.

North Carolina In 2020, Meadows Registered to Vote at N.C. Mobile Home That He Reportedly Never Lived In
MSN – Marianna Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2022

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows registered to vote in 2020 using the address of a North Carolina mobile home he has never lived in, a move scrutinized as potential voter fraud. According to the New Yorker, neither the home nor the address have belonged to him. It is illegal to provide false information on a voter registration, and while Americans can have multiple residences, they can only have one official domicile, which is tied to their voter registration. To register to vote in North Carolina, a citizen must have lived in the county where they are registering and have resided there for at least 30 days before the date of the election.

North Carolina North Carolina Rep. Cawthorn’s Candidacy Challenge Blocked
MSN – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 3/4/2022

A federal judge blocked an effort by North Carolina voters to disqualify U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn from seeking reelection this fall by alleging his involvement with the rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot in January 2021 made him ineligible. U.S. District Judge Richard Myers declared the state’s candidate challenge process did not apply to a portion of the 14th Amendment designed to prevent members of Congress who had fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War from returning to Congress.

Ohio Gun Lobbyist Wrote GOP Lawmakers’ ‘Permitless Carry’ Speech, Document Data Shows
Ohio Capital Journal – Jake Zuckerman | Published: 3/4/2022

Last April, two Republicans in the Ohio House told lawmakers their “constitutional carry” bill would ease the bureaucratic hassle of undergoing training and a background check to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon. But they did not write the speech. Chris Dorr, a lobbyist and executive director of Ohio Gun Owners, did. Metadata attached to a copy of their testimony on the Legislature’s website shows his name as the author of the document. Dorr writing the testimony is among the clearest signs of the close working relationship between gun lobbyists and Republican lawmakers.

Ohio Ohio Regulatory Judge Steps Back from FirstEnergy’s HB 6 Cases After Subpoenaed Records Reveal His Role
Energy News Network – Kathiann Kowalski | Published: 3/7/2022

An Ohio regulatory official stepped away from four FirstEnergy regulatory cases after subpoenaed documents showed he took part in policy matters relating to House Bill 6, the nuclear and coal bailout law at the heart of an ongoing corruption scandal. The materials show Gregory Price, a hearing examiner overseeing House Bill 6 cases for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), was included in policy communications with former PUCO Chairperson Sam Randazzo before the law passed and when bills to repeal it were proposed in the wake of the arrests of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and others.

Tennessee Ex-Tennessee Rep Pleads Guilty to Fraud in Consulting Scheme
MSN – Jonathan Mattise (Associated Press) | Published: 3/8/2022

Former Tennessee Rep. Robin Smith pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge in connection with a political consulting firm involving state Rep. Glen Casada, who had served as House speaker. Prosecutors say Smith, Casada, and Casada’s then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, used the firm to illegally funnel money to themselves through both campaign and taxpayer-funded work while concealing their involvement. Casada resigned from the top leadership post in 2019 after revelations he exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women with Cothren.

Texas Ethics Commission Fines Republican $30K for Implying Black Democrats Endorsed Him
Yahoo News – | Published: 3/8/2022

Eric Dick, who lost his bid for a seat on its Houston City Council in 2019, was fined $30,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission after falsely claiming he had been endorsed by a group of Black Democrats. Dick was running for office when he sent out an endorsement mailer by a group called the Harris County Black Democratic News. One side of the mailer had a banner that read, “Endorsement Announcement.” Dick originally told the commission he was not behind the mailer. But an investigation discovered he requested the mailer, approved the design, and arranged for its payment.

Vermont Vermont Is One of Five States Without a Statutory Code of Ethics. A Bill in the Senate Seeks to Change That
Vermont Public Radio – Peter Hirschfeld | Published: 3/8/2022

The Vermont Senate is poised to advance legislation that would create a statutory code of ethics for elected officials and state employees, but government watchdogs continue to face resistance to an independent agency to enforce the code. Vermont is one of only five states without a statutory code of ethics. “In order to have a really solid framework for government ethics, an outside entity such as the ethics commission does need to have some kind of investigatory or enforcement power,” said Christina Sivret, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. “However, we envision that to be a very slow process. People are not even used to having a statutory code of ethics in place.”

Washington WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson Announces $9M Settlement in Grocery Industry Campaign-Finance Case
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 3/2/2022

A trade group that represents some of the biggest U.S. food companies agreed to pay $9 million for violations of Washington’s campaign finance law after the state Supreme Court upheld a penalty twice that much. The Consumer Brands Association will pay the fine and drop an expected appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The settlement will finally end a long legal battle stemming from a 2013 ballot initiative that sought to require labeling of genetically modified food products. Documents showed the group sought to conceal the identities of corporations that wrote big checks to fund its campaign.

Washington DC The Tiny Radio Station Broadcasting Russian Propaganda in D.C.
WFPL – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2022

WZHF, a former Spanish-language station 11 miles east of the White House in Maryland’s Capitol Heights, is the flagship of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to harness America’s radio airwaves to sell the Kremlin’s point of view. Despite periodic legal and political challenges, and the imposition of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the station has stayed on the air, broadcasting its Kremlin-approved message. The station is one of only five outlets in the U.S. that air English-language broadcasts of “Radio Sputnik,” produced in Moscow and Washington under the Russian government’s supervision.

Wyoming Crossover Voting Ban Dies, Other Election Legislation Prevails
WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 3/9/2022

Election reforms trumpeted by the Wyoming Republican Party failed this session. Meanwhile, two campaign finance bills passed, along with one to ease the absentee ballot process for clerks. House Bill 49 requires any organization that receives or spends funds in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing an election outcome to officially file as a political organization. House Bill 80 would increase the penalties for campaigns and PACs that do not file an itemized statement of contributions and expenditures.

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