News You Can Use Digest - March 22, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

March 22, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 22, 2024


Supreme Court Rules Public Officials Can Sometimes Be Sued for Blocking Critics on Social Media

Associated Press News – Mark Sherman | Published: 3/14/2024

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled public officials can sometimes be sued for blocking their critics on social media. The court ruled in two cases involving lawsuits filed by individuals who were blocked after leaving critical comments on social media accounts belonging to school board members in Southern California and a city manager in Michigan. They are similar to a case involving Donald Trump and his decision to block critics from his personal account on Twitter. The justices dismissed the case after Trump left office.

Peter Navarro Begins 4-Month Jail Sentence for Contempt of Congress

DNyuz – Zach Montague and David Adams (New York Times) | Published: 3/19/2024

Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Donald Trump, reported to federal prison, becoming the first senior Trump administration official to serve time over his role in the effort to subvert the results of the 2020 election. Navarro, who helped engineer Trump’s plans to stay in power after his electoral defeat in November 2020, was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress after defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot.

US Supreme Court Justices, Judges Face New Rules for Disclosing Free Trips

MSN – Nate Raymond (Reuters) | Published: 3/18/2024

U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges can no longer avoid disclosing the value of travel-related gifts they receive by classifying such free trips as “reimbursements” on their financial disclosure forms under new regulations now in effect. The rules follow revelations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had not disclosed luxury trips paid for by a wealthy benefactor.

Trump-Backed Candidate Bernie Moreno Wins Ohio Senate Primary

MSN – Meryl Kornfield (Washington Post) | Published: 3/19/2024

Bernie Moreno, a Republican endorsed by Donald Trump, advanced to a general-election matchup against U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in a contest that could determine control of the Senate. Democratic groups have spent money on ads on Moreno in recent weeks because some strategists view him as an easier opponent for Brown, who faced no challengers in the primary, to defeat in a general election.

Chinese Billionaire Pleads Guilty to Straw Donor

MSN – Jake Offenhartz (Associated Press) | Published: 3/18/2024

A Chinese billionaire pleaded guilty to violating U.S. election laws by funneling illegal straw donations to a New York City official, a member of the U.S. House, and a congressional candidate. Hui Qin admitted to using his fortune to recruit and reimburse people who made political donations on his behalf, beginning with a New York City race in 2021. Court papers filed do not identify the candidates backed by Qin. But there were only a handful of citywide races in New York that year, including the election of Mayor Eric Adams.

Super PAC Backing Ted Cruz Received $215,000 From iHeartMedia – Fueling Ethics Concerns After Podcast Deal

MSN – Molly Bohannon (Forbes) | Published: 3/20/2024

A super PAC affiliated with Sen. Ted Cruz reported receiving $215,000 in “digital revenue” from iHeartMedia, despite a spokesperson for the senator previously denying there was an ethical issue with the company producing his podcast. In 2022, shortly after Cruz and iHeartMedia entered a partnership in which the company markets and produces his podcast, the Campaign Legal Center asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether the deal violated a federal law barring senators from receiving gifts from registered lobbyists.

‘Very, Very Troubling’: Judges, lawyers flummoxed by Judge Cannon

MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2024

Lawyers and former judges said they are baffled by an order issued by the federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s pending trial on charges he mishandled classified documents, and believe her instructions suggest the case will not go to trial anytime soon. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon ordered defense lawyers and prosecutors in the case to file submissions outlining proposed jury instructions based on two scenarios, each of which badly misstates the law and facts of the case, according to legal experts.

House Republican Divisions Over Governing Spill onto Campaign Trail

MSN – Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2024

The ideologically fractured House Republican conference has spent the past year debating what it takes to govern. Now that fight is spilling onto the campaign trail. Members from the far right and more traditional wings of the conference are campaigning against their colleagues in hopes of persuading primary voters to kick out incumbents and replace them with Republicans each group believes will better serve their political interests. The unusual interventions are a result of an ongoing intraparty dispute over what, or who, can bring about a “governing majority.”

Supreme Court Opens New Frontier for Insurrection Claims That Could Target State and Local Officials

MSN – Morgan Lee and Nicholas Riccardi (Associated Press) | Published: 3/19/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a former New Mexico county commissioner who was kicked out of office after he was convicted of trespassing during the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The state judge who barred him from office did so on the grounds his actions violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The move came on the heels of an expected high court ruling that Section 3 cannot be used against federal officials or candidates until Congress writes a law outlining procedures to do so. The actions herald a new legal landscape as groups that pushed for Trump’s disqualification reboot efforts to target state and local officials linked to January 6.

Emails Show How a Right-Wing Group Steers GOP Leaders on Major Policy Issues

MSN – Daniel Medina and Bob Ortega (CNN) | Published: 3/18/2024

Tax laws allow donors to channel millions of dollars anonymously, through nonprofit foundations, to activist organizations that lobby for and work behind the scenes to enact legislation that reflects partisan goals. The Foundation for Government Accountability enjoys tax-exempt status as a charitable organization. It received more than $44 million from six conservative foundations tied to billionaire donors from 2013 through 2022. Those foundations have financed much of the push to tighten voting laws and spread election disinformation across the country since the 2020 election.

Election Laws Not Ready for Deepfakes, Experts Warn: ‘It’s the Wild West right now’

MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 3/17/2024

Election law experts say there is little in the existing statutes to prevent artificial intelligence (AI)-powered bad actors, including meddling foreign powers, from unleashing campaign disinformation on an already saturated political landscape. While most commercial advertisers are prohibited from telling lies, there is nothing akin to truth-in-advertising laws for campaign ads because of the First Amendment’s heightened protection for political speech. Federal election laws do not currently regulate AI explicitly.

Supreme Court Likely to Reject Limits on White House Social Media Contacts

MSN – Ann Marimow and Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court seemed prepared to reject a Republican-led effort to sharply limit the federal government from pressuring social media companies to remove harmful posts and misinformation from their platforms. A majority of justices from across the ideological spectrum expressed concern about hamstringing White House officials and other federal employees from communicating with technology companies about posts related to public health, national security, and elections the government deems problematic.

Kushner Developing Deals Overseas Even as His Father-in-Law Runs for President

Seattle Times – Eric Lipton, Jonathan Swain, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 3/15/2024

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, confirmed he was closing in on major real estate deals in Albania and Serbia, the latest example of the former president’s family doing business abroad even as Trump seeks to return to the White House. Kushner’s plans in the Balkans appear to have come about in part through relationships built while Trump was in office. Kushner, who was a senior White House official, said he had been working on the deals with Richard Grenell, who served briefly as acting director of national intelligence under Trump.

Jan. 6 Defendant Got 2 Congressional Internships After She Allegedly Breached the Building

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 3/18/2024

In the three years since the attack on the Capitol, Isabella DeLuca gained a right-wing following and burnished her résumé with two internships in the offices of GOP members of Congress. Now, the social media influencer has been criminally charged for storming the Capitol and helping to force the evacuation of the chamber. DeLuca stands apart from the other 1,300 people charged in the riot because she is the first known member of the mob who would take a position in Congress after her role in the insurrection.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – Ninth Circuit Denies Injunction to Block Disclosure Rules for Alaska Elections

Courthouse News Service – Alanna Mayham | Published: 3/15/2024

A voter-backed measure to enforce campaign finance disclosures in Alaska prevailed after a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a judge’s denial of a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the law. A lawsuit by political donors claimed a 2020 voter initiative enforced burdensome disclosure rules that could lead to retaliation for their open support.

Alaska – Alaska Judge to Expedite Ruling on Campaign Ethics Violations by Ranked Choice Voting Opponents

Yahoo News – Iris Samuels (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 3/17/2024

A judge will rule months before the November election on the legality of a decision by state campaign regulators to punish opponents of Alaska’s voting system. The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) ruled that leaders of an effort to repeal Alaska’s open primary and ranked choice voting system violated state law when they funneled their campaign money through an organization registered as a church in Washington state. APOC fined the leaders of the ballot effort more than $94,000.

California – Outgoing City Atty. Mara Elliott Says Ethics Commission Needs Greater Independence

Times of San Diego – JW August | Published: 3/14/2024

Outgoing City Attorney Mara Elliott said it is time to increase the San Diego Ethics Commission’s independence to conduct investigations and issue larger fines when warranted. She plans to ask the city council to consider a series of upgrades to the commission. Some would be a ballot measure; others would require council action that would change how the commission is constituted and funded.

California – Fresno County Loses Again; Must Pay Legal Fees for Lawsuit Against City Council Members

Yahoo News – Tim Sheehan (Fresno Bee) | Published: 3/15/2024

Fresno County was ordered to pay more than $72,000 in legal fees to two Fresno City Council members for their defense against the county’s unsuccessful lawsuit over campaign finance issues. The county sued Councilpersons Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez last year, both candidates for the county’s board of supervisors, after the pair announced their intentions to transfer money from their city council campaign committees to their campaigns for supervisor.

Florida – Is Miami City Manager’s Furniture Saga Under Ethics Review? Here’s What We Know

MSN – Ana Claudia Chacin (Miami Herald) | Published: 3/21/2024

Miami City Manager Art Noriega told colleagues in an email that he had “engaged” with the county ethics commission about matters pertaining to the potential conflict-of-interest involving the city’s business with Pradere Manufacturing, a furniture vendor owned by his in-laws that employs his wife. He said the matter was “under review.” Jose Arrojo, director of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, said he does not recall ever meeting with or speaking to Noriega about the matter.

Florida – Ethics Complaint Against Moms for Liberty Founder Is Tossed

MSN – Josh Fiallo (Daily Beast) | Published: 3/16/2024

A complaint that kept Mom for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich from being confirmed to the Florida Commission on Ethics was rejected by the state ethics panel. The man behind the complaint, political consultant and blogger Robert Burns III, said it was rejected because the commission cannot investigate one of its own members.

Georgia – Fani Willis Can Stay on Trump Georgia Case, but Only If Wade Steps Aside, Judge Says

MSN – Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2024

The judge overseeing the Georgia election interference case against Donald Trump and his allies ruled Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could continue with the prosecution but only if Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor she appointed and had a romantic relationship with, exits the case. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said the defendants “failed to meet their burden” in proving Willis’s relationship with Wade was enough of a “conflict-of-interest” to merit her removal from the case. But the judge also found an “appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team.”

Hawaii – House Panel Spikes Bill to Publicly Fund Hawaii Elections

Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair | Published: 3/14/2024

The House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee rejected Senate Bill 2381, which would have set up a comprehensive system of public financing for all candidates seeking election to state and county offices beginning with the 2028 election year. But the bill did not include the $30 million estimated to be needed to fund the program, nor $200,000 to add staff to the state Campaign Spending Commission, which would be responsible for implementing the system.

Kentucky – Piagentini Keeps Council Seat Amid Ethics Controversy

MSN – Eleanor McCrary (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 3/18/2024

The Louisville Metro Council Court voted to keep embattled member Anthony Piagentini on the council after a lengthy misconduct trial. Piagentini was accused of using his position to land a $40 million grant for the nonprofit Louisville Healthcare CEO Council 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.

Maryland – Mosby Legal-Defense Fund Donor List to Remain Secret Following Circuit Court Ruling

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/18/2024

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill overturned a Public Information Act Compliance Board ruling that ordered the release of the names of donors to a legal-defense fund set up to benefit City Council President Nick Mosby and his wife. The board argued the donations were akin to campaign contributions, which are disclosable under Maryland law. Fletcher-Hill relied on a 2016 ruling that permitted the state comptroller to withhold specific financial information related to unclaimed funds.

Michigan – Prominent Lansing Fundraiser Arraigned on Campaign Finance Charges

Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 3/21/2024

Heather Lombardini, one of the top Republican fundraisers in Michigan politics, was arraigned on charges that she violated campaign finance law and created a false document after officials began investigating. The state attorney general’s office has been scrutinizing the movement of about $2.7 million from two nonprofit organizations tied to state Senate Republicans to the Unlock Michigan ballot proposal campaign, which gathered signatures to diminish Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers.

Michigan – Michigan Lawyer Who Claimed Election Fraud Arrested after Dominion Hearing

MSN – Rachel Weiner and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2024

An attorney for former Overstock Chief Executive Officer Patrick Byrne was detained at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., after defending her decision to disseminate internal documents from Dominion Voting Systems to revive debunked claims about the 2020 election. Stefanie Lambert was facing a bench warrant from a state court in Michigan, where she is accused of taking part in a conspiracy to tamper with voting machines in hopes of finding proof of fraud. She is simultaneously representing Byrne, who is being sued for defamation by Dominion over related falsehoods claiming the firm’s machines enabled vote tampering.

Michigan – ‘New Day in Lansing’ as Lawmakers Advance FOIA Bills, Introduce Transparency Measures

MSN – Arpan Lobo and Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 3/14/2024

Legislation to expand Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to include the governor’s office and state Legislature is advancing after members of the Senate Oversight Committee voted to report bills to the full Senate floor. There were concerns over some exemptions to open records requests that are currently in the legislation, like shielding the communications in the governor’s office for issuing pardons and criminal reprieves, and exemptions for communications between constituents and employees of the governor’s office or Legislature.

Nebraska – Lawmaker Apologizes After Inserting Colleague’s Name into Book Rape Scene

MSN – Annie Gowan and Kelsey Ables (Washington Post) | Published: 3/19/2024

Nebraska Sen. Steve Halloran apologized for reading a sexually graphic passage during debate over an obscenity bill and inserting Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s name into the text, a moment that sparked widespread outrage and calls for his resignation from across the political spectrum. Kevin Smith, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, said lingering tensions over Cavanaugh’s strong stance against a bill banning gender-affirming care may have had “some emotional spillover” in the debate over the obscenity measure.

New Hampshire – Group Sues After Novel Biden Deepfake Urged Voters to Skip N.H. Primary

MSN – Tobi Raji (Washington Post) | Published: 3/17/2024

A voting advocacy group is suing a political consultant and companies behind an AI-generated robocall o President Biden that in January urged New Hampshire voters not to participate in the state’s presidential primary. The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire accuses campaign consultant Steve Kramer, Life Corp., and Lingo Telecom of voter intimidation and deception in violation of federal and state laws.

New Jersey – Primary Ballot in N.J. Is ‘Unconstitutional,’ State Attorney General Says

MSN – Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2024

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s office said the state’s unique way of displaying county-backed candidates for U.S. Senate and governor on primary ballots is “unconstitutional” and will not defend it in court, following a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Andy Kim. The move is the latest twist in an already tumultuous Democratic nominating contest for a Senate seat in the reliably blue state. Kim and the state’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, are running in the June 4 primary for the seat held by embattled U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.

New Mexico – How NM Will Enforce the New Deepfake Disclosure Law

Source New Mexico – Austin Fisher | Published: 3/20/2024

About one week after early voting in New Mexico’s primary elections begins, a new law will go into effect requiring campaigns and candidates to tell the public whenever they use false information generated by artificial intelligence in a campaign ad. The secretary of state’s office and the New Mexico Ethics Commission will investigate alleged violations. New Mexico is among eight states that have enacted similar legislation since 2019. Thirty-one more states are considering related bills.

New Mexico – Senator Sues Secretary of State in Dispute Over Campaign Donation to Student

Yahoo News – Daniel Chacón (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 3/15/2024

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino is taking New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to federal court over what he contends is an unconstitutional provision in the state’s campaign finance law. The complaint alleges Toulouse Oliver “ambushed” the “good senator” over a $200 donation from his campaign to a high school student in Albuquerque. The secretary of state’s office says the contribution violated state law and it has been working to get Ortiz y Pino to comply by replacing the campaign funds with his own money.

New York – Trump’s Lawyers Say It Is Impossible for Him to Post Bond Covering $454 Million Civil Fraud Judgment

Associated Press News – Michael Sisak | Published: 3/18/2924

Donald Trump’s lawyers told a New York appellate court it is impossible for him to post a bond covering a $454 million civil fraud judgment in state Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit. while he appeals. Senior Assistant Solicitor General Dennis Fan wrote a full bond was necessary, in part, because Trump’s lawyers “have never demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s liquid assets, which may fluctuate over time, will be enough to satisfy the full amount of this judgment following appeal.”

New York – Judge Orders Delay in Trump Hush Money Trial Until at Least Mid-April

MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2024

The judge overseeing the expected first criminal trial of Donald Trump, which was due to begin in March, has pushed it back until at least mid-April, saying lawyers need more time to review a fresh set of potential evidence and he wants to hear arguments about whether the material was handled properly. The scheduling twist is an outgrowth of the strange legal path that led to Trump being indicted last year on state charges of business records fraud for hush money paid to an adult-film actress.

New York – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie Has Been Dating a Legislative Lobbyist

New York Focus – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/14/2024

Rebecca Lamorte is the legislative and communications director for the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust. She lobbies the Legislature on behalf of building trades and construction unions and their contractors, which the cooperative represents. She has been romantically involved with House Speaker Carl Heastie, apparently since at least last November. Heastie’s office has declined to acknowledge the relationship publicly, or to describe what steps the speaker has taken to avoid conflicts-of-interest.

Ohio – No Easter Vacation for Indicted FirstEnergy Lobbyist, Judge Rules

MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/18/2024

A judge said Mike Dowling, a FirstEnergy lobbyist charged with a sweep of bribery related crimes, cannot take a two-week trip to South Carolina to celebrate Easter. Dowling had asked Common Pleas Judge Susan Baker Ross for leave from terms of his pre-trial bond, which require him to stay in Ohio, to travel by car to his second home from March 23 to April 4.

Pennsylvania – Lawmakers Want to Ban Public Agencies from Hiring Lobbyists

The Center Square – Anthony Hennen | Published: 3/13/2024

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was criticized for hiring a lobbyist, something no state agency had done for two decades. Now, though the commission announced it will no longer use a lobbyist, legislators want to ban the practice statewide. Such a ban would preclude public entities, from boroughs and townships to counties and state agencies, from using a lobbying firm to plead their case for more funding.

Pennsylvania – Pa. Lawmakers Weigh Measures Exposing ‘Dark Money,’ Banning Ballot Drop Boxes

Yahoo News – Eric Scicchitano (The Daily Item) | Published: 3/20/2024

A bill in the Pennsylvania House seeking to shine light on “dark money” advanced out of committee and toward a floor vote, A dissenter to the proposal warned it could run afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The bill was among four election-related proposals addressing either money or election security to move through committees in the House and Senate, getting closer to floor votes in the respective chambers.

Texas – U.S. Supreme Court Hears Texas Case on Politically Motivated Arrests

Yahoo News – William Melhado (Texas Tribune) | Published: 3/20/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a Texas case in which a former council member sued the city of Castle Hills, arguing she was arrested in retaliation for criticizing the city manager. The question at the center of the case is whether people who criticize the government can sue local officials over retaliatory arrests. Several justices asked whether a lower court had too narrowly interpreted previous case law concerning the question.

Wisconsin – Trial Opens for Kimberly Zapata, Ex-Milwaukee Election Official Accused of Ordering Fake Military Ballots

MSN – Alison Dirr (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 3/18/2024

As the trial of former Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director Kimberly Zapata opened, the jury heard significantly different narratives about her actions in the fall of 2022 from her defense attorney and the prosecutor. Zapata is accused of ordering three military absentee ballots under fake names and sending them to a Republican lawmaker who embraces conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. She is facing charges of misconduct in public office and three counts of making a false statement to obtain an absentee ballot.

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