News You Can Use Digest - March 17, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

March 17, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 17, 2023


No Rest Between Censuses for Congressional Mapmakers

DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2023

For just about all of the nation’s history, politicians would fight over redistricting for a short period after each once-a-decade census, then forget about congressional maps until the next reapportionment. Now, a string of lawsuits and in-the-works state referendums are poised to redefine the battles over state legislative and congressional lines and leave the country in a state of perpetual redistricting. Not since 2012 and 2014 have all 50 states’ congressional lines remained constant for consecutive elections, a streak unlikely to be broken next year.

Social Media Threats Exploded after Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 Claims, Analysis Finds

MSN – Jessica Guynn and Will Carless (USA Today) | Published: 3/13/2023

Tucker Carlson’s portrayal of the deadly January 6 attack as a largely peaceful event on his  Fox News show set off a new wave of social media chatter that includes death threats against Capitol police officers and Democratic leaders, according to experts who monitor extremism and a report from Advance Democracy. The segment downplayed the violence, falsely recasting the mob that breached the Capitol as an “orderly and meek” gathering of “sightseers.”

GOP Rep. Andy Ogles Seems to Have Kept $25,000 From a GoFundMe for a Child Burial Garden

New Republic – Tori Otten | Published: 3/15/2023

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles appears to have kept money raised through a charitable GoFundMe event. A media investigation found Ogles set up a GoFundMe in 2014 after his son was stillborn. Ogles said he wanted to build a garden where families could bury their stillborn children and sit on benches by the gravestones. It raised almost $25,000, but the garden was never built. GoFundMe confirmed that Ogles received the money.

Sold: Yacht with a waterfall. Price: $19 million. Broker: George Santos.

Yahoo News – Rebecca Davis O’Brien and William Rashbaum (New York Times) | Published: 3/15/2023

A $19 million luxury yacht deal brokered by U.S. Rep. George Santos between two of his wealthy donors has captured the attention of federal and state authorities investigating his campaign finances and personal business dealings. Even if Santos broke no laws, the deal serves as further evidence of an emerging narrative given by people in his political orbit, that Santos seemed to use his campaign not only to win elected office but also as a networking exercise to ingratiate himself with rich donors and enrich himself from those contacts.

House Republicans Quietly Halt Inquiry into Trump’s Finances

Yahoo News – Luke Broadwater and Jonathan Swain (New York Times) | Published: 3/13/2023

House Republicans halted a congressional investigation into whether Donald Trump profited improperly from the presidency, declining to enforce a court-supervised settlement agreement that demanded that Mazars USA, his former accounting firm, produce his financial records to Congress. Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairperson James Comer professed ignorance about the inquiry Democrats opened when they controlled the House, and was instead focusing on whether President Biden and members of his family were involved in an influence-peddling scheme.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Commissioner Will Change Response to Ethics Complaint Following 12News Reports

MSN – Joe Dana (KPNX) | Published: 3/10/2023

A prominent association representing utility commissioners across the country said its name was falsely used to promote a two-day event hosted by the American Gas Association in New York in January. The revelation contradicts a statement filed by Arizona Corporation Commission member Kevin Thompson in response to an ethics complaint. Thompson, a former manager and lobbyist at Southwest Gas, said the meetings were beneficial to the public because it’s the job of commissioners “to reassure there’s regulatory stability in Arizona.”

California – Ethics Commission Wants More Time to Decide If Nonprofits, Other Groups Will Have to Register as Lobbyists

Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 3/9/2023

The Long Beach Ethics Commission said it will continue to work on its recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying law after dozens of nonprofit leaders turned out to its meeting to demand their current exemption from the law remain intact. There are over 600 nonprofits with a location in Long Beach, according to Michelle Byerly, executive director of The Nonprofit Partnership, who told the commission its proposal to add “advocacy” to the law and treat advocates the same as lobbyists would put a great burden on nonprofits.

California – Inside the Financial Ties Between a Controversial Housing Nonprofit and Kevin de León

MSN – Liam Dillon, Benjamin Oreskes, and Doug Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/13/2023

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 2020 was pursuing a lawsuit alleging Los Angeles illegally denied funding for an affordable housing project the nonprofit was proposing. Kevin de León, the area’s incoming city council member who had been elected but not yet taken office, contacted an aide to then-Mayor Eric Garcetti. The aide arranged a video call for De León with city department heads and high-ranking mayoral staffers. But those in the meeting did not know De León was a consultant working for the foundation, a job that would pay him more than $100,000 in the six months prior to his taking office.

California – Lawyers Make Opening Statements in Mark Ridley-Thomas Corruption Trial

MSN – Matt Hamilton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/8/2023

At the start of the corruption trial of suspended Los Angeles City Councilperson Mark Ridley-Thomas, jurors heard conflicting portraits of the onetime power broker. Defense attorneys cast him as a lifelong public servant who represented the poorest communities of Los Angeles. Prosecutors said Ridley-Thomas was a conniving operator eager to “monetize” his position and conceal a sexual harassment investigation into his son, then a state Assembly member. To preserve the family’s political brand, the elder Ridley-Thomas helped engineer his son’s abrupt resignation from the Legislature, supposedly for medical reasons, and leaned on the University of Southern California for favors to benefit his son.

Colorado – Former Trump Lawyer Jenna Ellis Censured by Colorado Judge for False Statements

MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/9/2023

A Colorado judge censured Jenna Ellis, a former senior legal adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign who admitted in state disciplinary proceedings that she made at least 10 false statements about the 2020 election as part of an effort to mislead the public. Ellis is the latest of Trump’s legal aides to face scrutiny for their conduct in the aftermath of the 2020 election. She is the first of the cohort to acknowledge in public that comments she made surrounding the election were false.

Florida – Florida Scoured Math Textbooks for ‘Prohibited Topics.’ Next Up: Social Studies.

DNyuz – Sarah Mervosh (New York Times) | Published: 3/16/2023

In Florida, textbooks have become hot politics, part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign against what he describes as “woke indoctrination” in public schools, particularly when it comes to race and gender. Last year, his administration made a splash when it rejected dozens of math textbooks, citing “prohibited topics.” Now, the state is reviewing curriculum in what is perhaps the most contentious subject in education: social studies. A prominent conservative education group, whose members volunteered to review textbooks, objected to a slew of them, accusing publishers of “promoting their bias.” At least two publishers declined to participate altogether.

Florida – Inside Ron DeSantis’s Politicized Removal of an Elected Prosecutor

Yahoo News – Alexandra Berzon and Ken Bensinger (New York Times) | Published: 3/11/2023

As he travels the country promoting a new book and his expected presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly points to his ouster of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren as an example of the decisive way he has transformed Florida and could remake the nation. He casts Warren as a rogue ideologue whose refusal to enforce the law demanded action. But an examination of the episode reveals a different picture: a governor’s office that seemed driven by a preconceived political narrative, bent on a predetermined outcome, and focused on maximizing media attention for DeSantis.

Georgia – Little-Known Lawyer, a Trump Ally, Draws Scrutiny in Georgia

Yahoo News – Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset (New York Times) | Published: 3/11/2023

At a Georgia Senate hearing after Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, attorney Robert Cheeley presented video clips of election workers handling ballots at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Cheeley spent 15 minutes laying out specious assertions the workers were double- and triple-counting votes. The fact that Cheeley was called to appear before the special grand jury investigating election interference by Trump adds to the evidence that the false claims made by his allies at legislative hearings have been of significant interest.

Hawaii – Hawaii’s New Deputy Economy Chief Has a Powerful Business Partner in The Senate

Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 3/15/2023

The business partner of a powerful state senator is on his way to being confirmed as deputy director for Hawaii’s economic development agency. Dane Wicker, a former chief of staff to Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and co-owner of Kilani Brew with Dela Cruz, cruised through a Senate committee hearing on his nomination. Senate rules on conflicts-of-interest apply to legislation in which a senator has a “direct financial interest.” The rules do not have any provisions on nominees before the Senate.

Illinois – ‘ComEd Four’ Bribery Trial to Put Focus on Ex-Speaker Madigan’s Power, State’s Blurry Line Between Politics and Crime

MSN – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/12/2023

Four former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) officials – ex-Chief Executive Officer Anne Pramaggiore, onetime utility lobbyist Mike McClain, retired ComEd executive John Hooker, and ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty – are on trial in federal court, accused of scheming to influence indicted ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Prosecutors alleged the four defendants tried to bribe Madigan, who controlled what proposals the House would consider and approve, from 2011 until 2019 to advance legislation favorable to ComEd and defeat bills the company opposed.

Illinois – As ComEd Bribery Trial Gets Underway, Judge Reverses Course and Will Allow Secret Recordings to Be Released to the Media

WBEZ – Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles (Chicago Sun-Times) | Published: 3/14/2023

The federal judge presiding over the Commonwealth Edison bribery trial reversed course and ruled secret recordings made of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his allies may be released to the media after they are played for jurors. That means people across the state will finally have an opportunity to hear the evidence at the core of the corruption investigation that ended Madigan’s record-breaking tenure as the leader of the state House and landed him under indictment.

Kansas – Kansas Republicans Push Forward with Changes to Ethics Rules Amid Ongoing Investigations

Kansas Reflector – Sherman Smith | Published: 3/15/2023

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s chief of staff urged Republican lawmakers to spend more time studying proposed changes to campaign finance law before moving forward with legislation inspired by ongoing investigations. The House Elections Committee amended and advanced a version of House Bill 2391, which was written by attorneys who represent a GOP political operative. The executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission warned lawmakers the revised bill still contains numerous changes that would limit his agency’s authority.

Kansas – Wichita Council Member Frye’s Vote Buys time for Wife’s Company on City Contract

Yahoo News – Chance Swaim and Matthew Kelly (Wichita Eagle) | Published: 3/15/2023

Wichita City Council member Bryan Frye cast a decisive vote related to a city contract with his wife’s employer, Copp Media Services. Frye’s action raises questions about whether his vote ran afoul of the city’s ethics rules that aim to prevent council members from voting on friend-and-family deals. Frye did not disclose the potential conflict-of-interest or recuse himself from the vote. Mayor Brandon Whipple and council members who knew about it did not raise any public objections during the meeting, citing confusion over who actually voted.

Louisiana – New Orleans Mayor Fights Lowered Recall Signature Threshold

Yahoo News – Kevin McGill (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2023

A court settlement that significantly lowered the number of petition signatures New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s opponents need to force a recall election was challenged in two state courts by Cantrell and one of her supporters. The settlement came after recall organizers sued election officials saying New Orleans voter rolls still list hundreds of dead people and thousands of voters who should be placed on an “inactive” list because they have likely moved. Questions have been raised about Cantrell’s travel expenses and her personal use of a city-owned apartment, among other issues.

Maine – Portland City Council Begins Developing State’s First Municipal Clean Elections Program

Yahoo News – Rachel Ohm (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 3/13/2023

The Portland City Council began developing a new clean elections program the city plans to have in place for the November election. The state in 1996 established the Maine Clean Elections Act, a voluntary program for public campaign funding for state level offices including governor and legislators, but Portland is the state’s first community to establish such a program at the municipal level.

Maryland – Judge Issues Warrant for Roy McGrath, Hogan’s Former Chief of Staff

MSN – Ovetta Wiggins (Washington Post) | Published: 3/13/2023

A federal judge issued a bench warrant for Roy McGrath, once a top aide to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, after he did not appear in court for the first day of trial on wire fraud and embezzlement charges. McGrath was charged in federal and state court in 2021 with dozens of charges stemming from his time working for a quasi-governmental agency he led before serving as Hogan’s chief of staff. He became the subject of an investigation shortly after it was publicly revealed he was given a severance package of nearly $250,000 when he left the Maryland Environmental Service.

Minnesota – Revolving Door at Minnesota Capitol Creates Windstorm

Minnesota Reformer – Michelle Griffith | Published: 3/15/2023

State lawmakers becoming lobbyists in Minnesota is not a new phenomenon, but heavy turnover at the Capitol has clients turning to legislators-turned-lobbyists. Sen. Matt Klein said lobbyists who recently left office have an advantage in information and relationships, and questioned the propriety of the arrangement. David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University said that special access for clients who can afford to hire a former lawmaker could mean less access for average Minnesotans.

Minnesota – Former House Majority Leader, Key Player in THC Law, to Start THC Beverage Company

Minnesota Reformer – Michelle Griffin | Published: 3/15/2023

Former Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is starting a THC beverage company after playing a key role in the passage of the law that legalized the THC edible industry. Winkler said he had no intentions of starting a company last year when he led the effort to legalize low-dose THC products. He only decided to go into the business after he lost the primary election for Hennepin County attorney last August.

Missouri – ‘It Forces You to Be More Creative’: How lobbyists kept their grip on Missouri politics

MSN – Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/12/2023

Missouri voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the state constitution that effectively eliminated lobbyist gifts to state legislators, tightened campaign contribution limits, and further restricted the “revolving door” of lawmakers becoming lobbyists. It was a striking achievement for good government advocates, who had voiced outrage for years over the state’s cozy Capitol scene. But as the fifth anniversary of the Clean Missouri vote approaches, a strong lobbying culture remains as Jefferson City has learned to adapt.

New Jersey – Why Is New Jersey the Only State That’s Never Had a State Song?

Philadelphia Inquirer – Alfred Lubano | Published: 3/14/2023

New Jersey is the only state that has never had a state song. It has a state mollusk shell (the knobbed whelk); a state dance (the square dance); and a state microbe (Streptomyces griseus), and a state animal, flower, fruit, bug, reptile, and dinosaur. “It’s a political hot potato,” said Tom Cunningham, host of the “Springsteen on Sunday” radio program. “You’ve got North, Central, and South Jersey – unique areas with their own ideas about music. Hopefully, one day the twain shall meet. But not now.”

New Mexico – Money in Politics Transparency Nears Finish as Legislative Session Winds Down

New Mexico In Depth – Marjorie Childress | Published: 3/14/2023

An effort to close a loophole in New Mexico’s campaign disclosure laws and bar campaign contributions from lobbyists and political committees to lawmakers during legislative sessions has a tailwind heading into the final week of the legislative session. New additions to Senate Bill 42 would require more timely reporting of political contributions so the public has more complete information just before elections and just before the legislative session each year.

New Mexico – Lobbyists Had Safety Plans and Trainings for NM’s 2023 Session, Fearing Misconduct by Lawmakers

Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/9/2023

This year, the Center for Civic Policy created a safety plan for New Mexico’s 2023 legislative session and shared it with other lobbying organizations around the state. It lays out measures such as staying with colleagues, understanding who to confide in, knowing the surroundings, and taking notes of any incidents that happen. The group also held safety training sessions before and midway through the legislative session with other advocacy organizations. Lan Sena policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, said the Capitol is an unsafe work environment for many people working with advocacy and nonprofit organizations.

New York – NY Troopers PBA Removes Political Director Amid FBI Investigation

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 3/13/2023

The board of directors for the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association (PBA) voted to part ways with the union’s longtime political director, Gordon Warnock, amid an ongoing investigation of the organization’s finances and business dealings. The departure comes after it was reported that the investigation includes examining hundreds of thousands of dollars paid through the years to individuals or companies with connections to the union. A lobbying firm operated by Warnock has done extensive work for the union and subcontracted some of its national work to a limited liability company formed by the PBA’s former president.

New York – Former State Sen. Jeff Klein Loses Appeal Seeking to End Ethics Probe

Albany Times Union – Staff | Published: 5/10/2023

A New York appellate court rejected former state Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s efforts to shut down an ethics panel’s investigation into allegations he violated the law when he allegedly forcibly kissed a female staff member outside an Albany bar in 2015. Documents show that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) found there was a substantial basis to proceed with a case despite a hearing officer’s recommendation it should be dismissed. Klein’s 2020 petition alleged JCOPE exceeded its authority when it rejected the recommendations of hearing officer Richard Rifkin.

New York – NYC Mayor Eric Adams Faces Thousands in Fines for Potential Campaign Finance Violations

Gothamist – Gwynne Hogan | Published: 3/15/2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for three alleged violations of campaign finance law based on issues stemming from his 2021 Transition and Inauguration Entity, a fund that recently elected candidates use to cover expenses after they win an election and before they officially take office. The Campaign Finance Board accused Adams of accepting prohibited donations, failing to respond to requests for information and documentation, and failing to close the fund once Adams became mayor in 2022.

New York – Prosecutors Signal Criminal Charges for Trump Are Likely

Seattle Times – William Rashbaum, Ben Protess, and Jonah Bromwich (New York Times) | Published: 3/9/2023

The Manhattan district attorney’s office recently signaled to Donald Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges for his role in the payment of hush money to a porn star, the strongest indication yet prosecutors are nearing an indictment of the former president. The prosecutors offered Trump the chance to testify before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close; it would be unusual for the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.

North Carolina – N.C. High Court Mulls Throwing Out Rulings on Redistricting, Voter ID

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 3/14/2023

The North Carolina Supreme Court, now controlled by Republicans following the November midterms, weighed reversing a three-month-old decision aimed at ensuring election maps are drawn fairly. Ahead of oral arguments, critics excoriated the justices for reexamining the redistricting case and a voter ID decision so soon after ruling on them, contending the justices were doing so for partisan reasons instead of legal ones. In December, when Democrats controlled the court, a four-to-three majority issued decisions that went against Republicans on redistricting and threw out the voter ID law.

Ohio – What’s Next in Ohio Corruption Probe After Guilty Verdicts?

ABC News – Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2023

The largest corruption case in Ohio history culminated with guilty verdicts for ex-House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, the former head of the Republican Party. But state Attorney General Dave Yost said it is “only the beginning of accountability” for the now-tainted $1 billion bailout of two aging nuclear power plants. There have been no charges against the FirstEnergy executives who were fired in the wake of the scandal. They include former Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jones and former Vice President for External Affairs Michael Dowling, whose texts, emails, and travel itineraries factored heavily into the case against Householder.

Ohio – Guilty: Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, ex-Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges convicted in $60M bribery scheme

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/9/2023

A jury found former House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Matt Borges guilty in the largest public corruption case in the state’s history. Prosecutors accused Householder and Borges of being part of a scheme to funnel nearly $61 million in “dark money” from First Energy Corp. and its subsidiary to elect Householder as speaker, solidify his power base, secure enough votes to pass a ratepayer-funded bailout of two nuclear plants that benefitted a FirstEnergy subsidiary, and ensure the law survived a ballot campaign to overturn it.

Oklahoma – Okla. Lawmaker Says Bible Endorses Corporal Punishment of Disabled Children

MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2023

Oklahoma Rep. John Talley thought his bill to bar schools from spanking children with disabilities would find little to no opposition in the Legislature. What seemed like a rare bipartisan moment quickly came crashing down as other Republican lawmakers invoked the Bible to argue against Talley’s House Bill 1028, claiming in some instances that “God’s word is higher than all the so-called experts,” as Rep. Jim Olsen said during debate. The bill wound up six votes short of the 51 it needed to pass.

Pennsylvania – ‘Ya Fav Trashman’ Mishandled Campaign Funds and Bilked Staffers. He Says He Wants to Make Things Right.

MSN – Mike Martin (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/10/2023

Terrill Haigler, a former city sanitation worker who gained Instagram fame under his alter ego “Ya Fav Trashman,” ended his campaign for Philadelphia City Council, telling his thousands of social media followers he did not get enough signatures to appear on the ballot. But behind the scenes, financial problems plagued his campaign. Haigler has not paid his staffers, used campaign funding for personal expenses in a possible violation of Pennsylvania law, and could face penalties from the city’s Board of Ethics for failing to account for the money.

Tennessee – Tennessee Governor OKs Bill to Cut Nashville Council in Half

Yahoo News – Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi (Associated Press) | Published: 3/9/2023

Republican lawmakers and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed off on cutting Democratic-leaning Nashville’s metro council in half, a move that follows the council’s rejection of efforts to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. The move drew an immediate outcry and is expected to spark legal challenges. Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s administration and others say the change will throw this year’s council elections into chaos, spurring the need to redraw districts after more than 40 candidates already launched campaigns.

Tennessee – Lt. Gov. Randy McNally Faces Criticism for Comments on Young Man’s Mature Instagram Photo

Yahoo News – Melissa Brown (Tennessean) | Published: 3/9/2023

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is facing controversy after reports revealed his Instagram account liked half-nude photos of a gay man whose account he follows despite McNally’s support for anti-LGBTQ legislation. Screenshots show McNally’s official account posting emojis of red hearts, fire, hands clapping, and a smiling face with hearts for eyes. The state Senate, with McNally as its leader, advanced and passed bans this year on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restrictions on where certain drag shows can take place.

Texas – Legislature Has Little Appetite to Fund Ken Paxton’s Settlement with Whistleblowers

Texas Tribune – James Barragán | Published: 3/13/2023

Texas lawmakers are facing a choice: approve $3.3 million in state funds to end a lawsuit accusing Attorney General Ken Paxton of improperly firing four whistleblowers or reject an out-of-court settlement – potentially adding millions of dollars in costs while leaving the outcome of the lawsuit to fate in a long-shot attempt to make Paxton pay. The settlement would resolve a lawsuit that alleges Paxton fired former high-ranking deputies in retaliation for accusing him of using his office to benefit a friend and political donor. But lawmakers have shown little appetite to use state funds to help Paxton settle the case.

Texas – Ken Paxton’s Campaign Against Election Crimes Ensnared a Texas Justice of the Peace Three Times Before Judges Thwarted the Efforts

Texas Tribune – Alejandro Serrano | Published: 3/15/2023

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office in 2021 pursued criminal election fraud charges Tomas Ramirez III, a justice of the peace in Medina County. An indictment accused Ramirez of illegally possessing absentee ballots of 17 voters during the 2018 GOP primary in which he toppled a Republican incumbent by nearly 100 votes. Ramirez said he never had any voter’s absentee ballots. The indictment did not explain how the alleged scheme worked or the role Ramirez was accused of playing.

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