March 24, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 24, 2023
DNyuz – Stuart Thompson, Tiffany Hsu, and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) | Published: 3/20/2023
Artificial intelligence has become another front in the political and cultural wars in the U.S. and other countries. Even as companies scramble to join the commercial boom prompted by the release of ChatGPT, they face a debate over the use, and potential abuse, of artificial intelligence. The technology’s ability to create content that hews to predetermined ideological points of view, or presses disinformation, highlights a danger – that an informational cacophony could emerge from competing chatbots with different versions of reality, undermining the viability of artificial intelligence as a tool in everyday life and further eroding trust in society.
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 3/17/2023
Federal officials cannot find two gifts received by former President Trump and his family from foreign nations, including a life-size painting of Trump from the president of El Salvador and golf clubs from the Japanese prime minister, according to a new report from House Democrats. The gifts are among more than 100 foreign gifts, with a total value of nearly $300,000, that Trump and his family failed to report to the State Department in violation of federal law, according to the report, which cites government records and emails.
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, Jacqueline Alemany, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/22/2023
A federal appeals court ruled that a lawyer for Donald Trump must provide notes, transcripts, and other evidence to prosecutors investigating how classified documents remained at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home months after a subpoena to return all sensitive files. The order from a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ends an emergency hold on a ruling by a lower-court judge. It is possible Trump will seek to carry the fight up to the Supreme Court.
MSN – Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2023
The District of Columbia’s federal court system is bracing for many years more of trials stemming from the riot at the U.S. Capitol, with new charges possible against as many as 1,000 more people. Prosecutors are hopeful many will be incentivized to plead to help manage the crush of cases, which already have strained the court in the nation’s capital. A Washington Post analysis of the cases so far shows defendants who seek a trial rather than plead guilty end up getting about a year of prison time added to their sentences.
MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2023
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 3/22/2023
U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost and a slate of former congressional candidates urged the FEC to loosen restrictions on using campaign funds for salaries and benefits for those seeking office. Making it easier for candidates to draw a regular salary, plus health care and other benefits, would help encourage more diversity among House, Senate, and presidential hopefuls, they argued.
Roll Call – Michael Macagnone | Published: 3/22/2023
Clips from videotaped depositions with allies of Donald Trump were one of the most effective tools employed by the House select committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to make the public case against Trump’s role. Experts expect that will change the dynamics of congressional committees this year and beyond. Lawmakers will come around to those technological advancements that grab public attention and allow them to better shape their arguments, and witnesses will recalculate how their answers might later be used at hearings.
Yahoo News – Alice Mianda Ollstein and Megan Messerly (Politico) | Published: 3/19/2023
After watching the pro-choice side win all six ballot initiative fights related to abortion in 2022, including in red states, conservatives are mobilizing to avoid a repeat. Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma are debating bills this session that would hike the filing fees, raise the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, restrict who can collect signatures, mandate broader geographic distribution of signatures, and raise the vote threshold to pass an amendment from a majority to a supermajority.
Yahoo News – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 3/19/2023
Though it was obvious at the time that George Santos missed the deadline in 2021 to file a financial disclosure report, the issue did not attract much attention until after he had been elected to Congress and a series of resumé fabrications began to surface. Dozens of candidates who should have filed financial disclosures over the past two election cycles avoided doing so or filed the forms late without asking for an extension. The fact that such violations are rarely even flagged, and penalties are essentially non-existent, makes it easy for candidates to avoid disclosing key financial information, ethics experts say.
Yahoo News – Billy House (Bloomberg) | Published: 3/18/2023
Members of Congress and their staffers rebounded from pandemic travel anxiety in 2022, accepting more than $6.6 million worth of airline tickets, hotel rooms, and meals paid for by special-interest groups. Destinations included more than 40 foreign countries, including Israel, Spain, and Japan, as well as U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Miami. Some lawmakers took spouses and other family members, also free-of-cost, on the excursions.
From the States and Municipalities
RNZ – Guyon Espiner | Published: 3/22/2023
A media investigation unearthed thousands of emails, text messages, and even encrypted Signal communications, revealing the extent of the lobbying industry in New Zealand. The documents show lobbyists targeting ministerial advisors, inviting them to drinks, dinner, and sports events with text messages addressing them as “brother” and “comrade.” New Zealand has among the weakest regimes in the developed world for regulating lobbying and the industry largely operates in the shadows, with little information about the client lists of many of the major firms.
White Mountain Independent – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/20/2023
A conservative advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers is asking a federal judge to quash new voter-approved campaign finance laws aimed at exposing “dark money” contributions for political purposes. Attorneys for Americans for Prosperity contend the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to donate to advocacy organizations without fear their identities would be disclosed. But in a new lawsuit, they contend Proposition 211 “trammels that right by subjecting countless Americans nationwide to governmental doxxing for doing nothing more than supporting their chosen non-profit organizations and charities.”
KQED – Sydney Johnson | Published: 3/21/2023
San Francisco leaders are making an exception to their own ethics policy so city officials can solicit donations for safe-consumption sites. The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on that allows Mayor London Breed, her officers, and officials at the Department of Public Health to seek out contributions for nonprofits, which would then use the private funds to operate safe-consumption sites, where medical staff can supervise people using drugs and respond if there is an overdose.
San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 3/22/2023
The federal cases against two Bay Area executives accused of bribing former San Francisco Public Works head Mohammed Nuru with a $40,000 tractor are about to cost them more city business. A city investigation digging deeper into the corruption cases against Alan Varela and William Gilmartin of ProVen Management, a construction and engineering firm behind major infrastructure projects, has revealed new links between the executives, their firm, and four other companies. Now City Attorney David Chiu is suspending the firms from bidding on city contracts.
San Jose Spotlight – Jana Kadah | Published: 3/16/2023
Like corporate lobbyists, nonprofit leaders meet regularly with San Jose officials to influence policy decisions. But nonprofits, which are often awarded millions in city contracts, do not have to disclose their meetings like other lobbyists. Ethics experts say more transparency is needed, while nonprofit leaders worry changing the rules will make it harder for them to advocate for policies and discourage smaller nonprofits from working with the city.
Yahoo News – Ben Irwin and Aaron Leathley (Stockton Record) | Published: 3/22/2023
A temporary restraining order was granted protecting Stockton City Councilperson Brando Villapdua, who accused the 209 Times founder, Motecuzoma Sanchez, of harassing the lawmaker. Court documents say Sanchez harassed and threatened Villapudua into supporting the removal of City Manager Harry Black “and others.” After a closed meeting of the council, Sanchez began verbally attacking and threatening Villapudua and became “physically aggressive in such a quick manner” that the 209 Times founder had to be physically restrained at Valley Brewin the city, according to court documents.
Yahoo News – Adam Elmahrek (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/23/2023
Corruption in California’s cannabis industry has become widespread and brazen. There have been “pay-to-play” schemes, including a demand for cash in a brown paper bag for a marijuana license, threats of violence against local officials, and city council members accepting money from cannabis businesses even as they regulated them. Those problems and more were uncovered by a Los Angeles Times investigation. Now state officials are launching an audit aimed at curtailing bribery, conflicts-of-interest, and other misdeeds.
Denverite – Ben Markus | Published: 3/21/2023
Before Kelly Brough decided to run for mayor of Denver, she had a conversation with her partner, David Kenney. Brough said she has been in a relationship for about 10 years with Kenney, a longtime political consultant and city and state lobbyist, whose clients make up some of the largest developers in Denver. He has exercised his connections in the current administration, meeting with Mayor Michael Hancock and several of his top deputies at least 31 times between 2011 and 2022. His firm has been involved in a series of successful ballot issue campaigns on behalf of business interests.
Connecticut – Former West Haven Employee Sentenced to Prison for Fraud
Connecticut Mirror – Andrew Brown | Published: 3/22/2023
John Bernardo, a former West Haven employee, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for participating in a scheme to steal federal relief funds that were meant to help the city and its residents weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernardo was the first defendant to be sentenced as part of a federal probe, which uncovered more than $1.2 million that was embezzled through a network of bogus companies and a stream of fake invoices paid by the city’s Finance Department.
Yahoo News – Eric Rogers and Dave Berman (Florida Today) | Published: 3/16/2023
Florida Rep. Randy Fine pulled a $2 million state funding request for the Brevard Zoo’s aquarium project at Port Canaveral. The move came after Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten said the zoo’s board would consider halting rentals for political campaign events after the 2024 election cycle in the wake of controversy over a fundraiser held at the zoo’s Nyami Nyami River Lodge for Fine’s 2024 state Senate run.
MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 3/16/2023
An Atlanta-area special grand jury that investigated efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia heard audio of another phone call in which Trump pressed a top state official to help overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Five members of the special grand jury said they listened to a recording of a 2020 phone call between Trump and the Georgia House speaker at the time, David Ralston, in which Ralston resisted Trump’s requests to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden’s narrow election win.
Honolulu Civil Beat – Kevin Dayton | Published: 3/20/2023
In a state in which construction and development interests wield strong influence, first-term Rep. Micah Aiu’s job outside the Hawaii Legislature could be seen as problematic. Aiu works as an in-house lawyer for Nan Inc., a major construction company that competes for state jobs. Since last summer, Nan was awarded eight contracts worth $325 million. Aiu also sits on the House Finance Committee, which plays an outsized role in developing the state budget and the list of construction projects the state will fund each year. Freshmen lawmakers are routinely assigned to that committee to help them absorb the nuances of the budget process.
Yahoo News – Caroline Kubzansky (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/21/2023
Critics note most or all ethics boards in Illinois, which range throughout the state, are limited because they have only advisory powers. They can investigate wrongdoing by officials but then must refer their findings to that same board so its members can consider whether to take action. Niles, a town shaken by an ethics scandal in which the mayor was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2010, floated a different approach. On April 4, voters there will elect the members of their ethics board, creating what may be the first entity of its kind in Illinois.
Indiana Capital Chronicle – Casey Smith | Published: 3/13/2023
At least 15 legislators in the Indiana General Assembly provide professional advice and guidance to private businesses outside of the Capitol. Other lawmakers have outside limited liability companies that do not specifically reference consulting work but still could provide that service. While some lawmakers choose to list individual clients in their financial disclosure forms, they are not required to do so unless they are a significant income source, leaving the public in the dark about who they are affiliated with.
MSN – Ketie Bernard (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/20/2023
Since 2009, Kansas lawmakers have been paid $88.66 per day. Assuming an eight-hour workday, lawmakers make roughly $11.08 per hour, not including the per diem received for travel and living expenses in Topeka. But oftentimes the hours far exceed the traditional eight-hour day once constituent services on unpaid days, evening meetings, and late-night debates are factored in. Lawmakers are expected to continue serving their constituents year-round even though they are only paid for the 90-day legislative session. Kansas may be paying below the federal minimum wage to the officials tasked with determining the policies and laws of the state.
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital Journal) | Published: 3/22/2023
Kansas lawmakers backed off a more aggressive overhaul of the state’s campaign finance laws, instead opting for a more limited set of changes that focuses on the Governmental Ethics Commission’s administrative procedures. The initial bill was criticized as an attempt to eviscerate limits on campaign donations and effectively render the commission powerless. It raised eyebrows at the Capitol as it came amid an investigation into prominent legislators and state Republican Party officials, despite arguments from GOP lawmakers that the bill was unrelated to the high-profile investigation.
MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/21/2023
Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby closed a nearly yearlong saga over a legal-defense fund formed in his name by complying with a Board of Ethics order. A judge upheld the board’s findings that Mosby violated the law by indirectly soliciting donations for the fund and by failing to disclose its existence on his ethics filing in 2022, which covered activity in 2021. The fund was established for the defense of the council president and also his wife, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, as federal authorities investigated their financial dealings.
Yahoo News – Jenna Russell (New York Times) | Published: 3/17/2023
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed the right to be rude at public meetings. Stemming from a lawsuit filed against the town of Southborough by a resident who said members of the Select Board had silenced her unlawfully, the decision pushed back against attempts to mandate good manners. Many local public officials experienced fierce disputes over masks, vaccines, and remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic that erupted at meetings.
Bridge Michigan – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 3/22/2023
Michigan’s experiment in deradicalizing young extremists may be over before it begins, after the second arrest of a man who had agreed to participate in the program. In a first-of-its kind arrangement, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office last fall agreed to pay up to $10,000 for a pair of consultants to help Andrew Nickels disengage “from extremist organizations” and avoid violence through counseling and support, according to a contract.
Detroit News – Anna Liz Nichols | Published: 3/16/2023
Former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco was sentenced to three months in prison followed by two years of supervised release in connection with a long-running federal corruption probe. Marrocco was sentenced for trying to extort a developer into buying tickets to a campaign fundraiser and threatening to delay or withhold a county permit. He agreed to plead guilty to attempted extortion in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other extortion-related charges that each carried a 20-year possible prison sentence.
Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 3/22/2023
A campaign finance law struck down by a federal judge last year will live on in Montana’s law books after legislators from both parties voted down a proposal to repeal the defunct statute. The state’s requirement that candidates give their opponent a heads-up on attack ads published or broadcast in the last 10 days before an election was ruled unconstitutional. The judge found the disclosure requirement violated the free-speech rights of a conservative political committee.
MSN – Maham Javaid (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2023
The Nebraska Legislature has been unable to pass a single bill this year. One senator’s distaste with the advancement of a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care for Nebraskans under 19, coupled with the state’s unique filibustering rules, has brought the session to a standstill. While filibustering is not rare for Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature, state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh is the first lawmaker to filibuster every bill introduced to the floor. Senators opposing the bill seeking to restrict gender-affirming care say this is the first time their Legislature has become a part of the national culture war around transgender rights.
MSN – Susan Livio, Matt Arco, and Brent Johnson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/16/2023
Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and three of his top aides, alleging a conspiracy to force Brindle from his job. The suit alleges the Murphy administration sought to remove Brindle over a satirical op-ed he wrote that was critical of groups that engage in political activity but do not publicly disclose their donors. Brindle says he has been the subject of a “concerted and joint action and conspiracy to extort and coerce” him to resign by citing a homophobic email he allegedly sent and a racist statement he allegedly made. Brindle has denied the allegations.
Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 3/20/2023
The New Jersey Senate passed an amended campaign finance overhaul critics say continues to gut “pay-to-play” laws, weakens the watchdog agency overseeing all elections in the state, and contains a second attempt to give the governor more power to choose who leads that agency. The Elections Transparency Act includes substantial changes to how money flows in New Jersey elections, including increasing the amounts that individuals and corporations can donate to politicians and parties; illuminating certain “dark money” donors; and cutting down the time accounts can be investigated for violations.
Buffalo News – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/21/2023
Soon after Gov. Kathy Hochul was elected last year, 43 members of her campaign staff received a total of $363,000 in payments from the New York State Democratic Party’s so-called called housekeeping account, a type of fundraising allowed under state election law but long criticized by reform groups. Housekeeping accounts can receive unlimited contributions from donors, including corporations. Watchdogs argued that, in practice, donations to housekeeping accounts have been used to subsidize favored candidates backed by political parties, permitted by loopholes and lackluster election law enforcement.
North Carolina – Biden Administration Suggests Supreme Court Drop Election Case
Bloomberg Law – Greg Stohr | Published: 3/20/2023
The Biden administration suggested the U.S. Supreme Court drop a closely watched election case after an unusual twist raised fresh questions about the court’s jurisdiction. The dispute centers on the “independent state legislature theory,” which would oust state judges and other officials from longstanding roles in shaping the rules for federal elections. The case, argued in December, centers on the North Carolina Supreme Court’s rejection of a Republican-drawn congressional map.
MSN – Lucas Daprile (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/18/2023
A company whose president donated $10,000 to Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne’s campaign later received a $120,000 no-bid lobbying contract from the county. The year-long contract to McCaulley&Company was approved by the Board of Control following a recommendation from the county executive’s office. The board also approved an exemption from competitive bidding on the contract, even though the county interviewed multiple firms before approving its last federal lobbying contract.
MSN – Cassandra Stevenson (Tennessean) | Published: 3/15/2023
Days after Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that will slash Nashville’s metro council in half, the city filed a lawsuit against the state claiming the law violates the Tennessee Constitution and the rights of Davidson County voters. The new law requires city and metropolitan governments to cap their councils at 20 members. In practice, Nashville’s 40-member council is the only body in the state immediately impacted by the legislation. No other city or metropolitan government has a council larger than 20 members.
MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 3/19/2023
The Justice Department challenged three high-profile lawsuits filed in Texas against Biden administration policies, accusing state politicians of choosing small, conservative federal court divisions that have little relevance to their cases but nearly guarantee them a sympathetic judge. It is part of the administration’s first concerted effort to fight what some legal experts say is a growing problem of “forum shopping” – a strategy in which plaintiffs are alleged to cherry-pick judges they want to hear their cases, bucking the random assignment of judges that is considered a tenet of the American legal system.
MSN – Emily Anderson Stern (Salt Lake Tribune) | Published: 3/20/2023
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission was created one decade ago after Utah was rattled by two major scandals that led to the FBI investigating a state attorney general and his predecessor, as well as a lieutenant governor. Annual reports indicate the commission has heard just two complaints, none of which seemingly have been found to have merit and referred to the Legislature for potential action. In that time, the governor-appointed volunteer panel’s operations have been supplemented with nearly $50,000 from the Legislature.
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