News You Can Use Digest - March 3, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

March 3, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 3, 2023


Indian Americans Rapidly Climbing Political Ranks

DNyuz – Maggie Astor and Jill Cowan (New York Times) | Published: 2/27/2023

Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S., Americans of Indian descent in 20123 were barely represented in politics. Ten years later, the 118th Congress includes five Indian Americans; nearly 50 are in state Legislatures. Vice President Kamala Harris is Indian American. Nikki Haley’s campaign announcement makes 2024 the third consecutive cycle in which an Indian American has run for president, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s newly announced candidacy makes it the first cycle with two.

Student Loan Case Could Redefine Limits of Presidential Power

DNyuz – Michael Shear and Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 3/1/2023

One of President Biden’s most ambitious proposals, a $400 billion program to forgive student loan debt for 40 million Americans, could become the latest victim of a legal tug of war with the U.S. Supreme Court over the powers of the presidency. The case has the potential to curtail Biden just as newly empowered Republicans in the House have vowed to block his every move in Congress. It will set additional legal precedents, potentially defining new limits for presidential power.

Rep. Scott Perry Fights to Keep Phone from Team Probing Jan. 6 Attack

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/23/2023

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry is asking an appeals court to block a search of his cellphone by the special counsel investigating the insurrection at the Capitol. He is supported by bipartisan House leadership in arguing the speech or debate clause of the Constitution bars the Justice Department from seeing the phone contents. After the 2020 election, Perry pushed the White House and Justice Department to investigate implausible election fraud claims. He was also involved in the effort to install as acting attorney general Jeffrey Clark, who backed plans to block Biden from taking office.

Trump White House Pressured Disney to Censor … Jimmy Kimmel

MSN – Asawin Suebsaeng (Rolling Stone) | Published: 2/26/2023

In early 2018, then-President Trump was so upset by late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s comedic jabs he directed his White House staff to call up one of Disney’s top executives in Washington, D.C., to complain and demand action. Disney owns ABC, on which Jimmy Kimmel Live! has long aired. The following year, Trump directed his staff and attorneys to see whether the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department could retaliate against late night shows critical of him after he was incensed by the jokes about him on SNL.

Murdoch Admits Some Fox Hosts ‘Were Endorsing’ Election Falsehoods

MSN – Jeremy Barr, Sarah Ellison, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2023

Embattled Rep. Ogles Acknowledges Misrepresenting His College Major

MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2023

Showdown Before the Raid: FBI agents and prosecutors argued over Trump

MSN – Carol Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein, and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) | Published: 3/1/2023

Months of disputes between Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents over how best to try to recover classified documents from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence led to a tense showdown near the end of July last year. It was one of several previously unreported clashes in a tug of war between two arms of the Justice Department over how aggressively to pursue a criminal investigation of a former president. The FBI conducted an unprecedented raid and recovered more than 100 classified items.

Dark Money and Special Deals: How Leonard Leo and his friends benefited from his judicial activism

MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 3/1/2023

A network of political nonprofits formed by judicial activist Leonard Leo moved at least $43 million to a new firm he is leading, raising questions about how his conservative legal movement is funded. Leo’s own personal wealth appeared to have ballooned as his fundraising prowess accelerated since his efforts to cement the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority helped to bring about its decision to overturn abortion rights. Most recently, Leo reaped a $1.6 billion windfall from a single donor in what is likely the biggest single political gift in U.S. history.

Judge Won’t Unseal Details of Trump’s Privilege Fight Over Jan. 6 Grand Jury

MSN – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell rejected a bid to obtain access to details of former President Trump’s efforts to block testimony by aides to a grand jury investigating his effort to derail the transfer of power after the 2020 election. Howell said a federal court rule mandating grand jury secrecy precluded the release of court opinions and other filings about disputes she has ruled on behind closed doors. The New York Times and Politico petitioned Howell to unseal portions of the grand jury proceedings in October, citing the historic nature of the secret rulings she had issued. The Justice Department opposed the unsealing, prompting Howell’s decision.

New Indictment Details Bankman-Fried’s Illegal Campaign Contributions

Yahoo News – Declan Harty and Sam Sutton (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023

Yahoo News – Lisa Lerer and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 3/1/2023

For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) occupied a center ring in Republican politics. This year, Donald Trump will be back at the four-day gathering, joined by a long list of right-wing media provocateurs, culture-war activists, and a smattering of senators. Missing from the agenda: many of the Republicans seen as the future of the party. Some Republicans say the CPAC gathering has increasingly become more like a sideshow than a featured act, one that seems made almost exclusively for conservative media.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – AG Steve Marshall Accuses Alabama Ethics Director Tom Albritton of ‘Self-Dealing’ from Charitable Trust – Mike Cason | Published: 3/1/2023

State Attorney General Steve Marshall accused Alabama Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton of improperly benefiting from a charitable trust for which Albritton was a board member because Albritton’s children received more than $100,000 in scholarship money from the fund. The accusation came in a civil case and is not a criminal allegation. Marshall alleged Albritton and two other members of the board breached their duties by engaging in “self-dealing” or by failing to prevent it.

Arizona – Pro-Lake PAC Didn’t Fabricate Its Source of $2.1 Million, Officials Concluded Last Year

Arizona Mirror – Jim Small | Published: 2/27/2023

A campaign finance complaint accusing a super PAC that spent $2.1 million boosting Kari Lake’s bid for Arizona governor of inventing the source of its funding was quietly dismissed last year after elections officials determined a media report questioning the money’s origin was inaccurate. In July 2022, the Arizona Republic reported on the mysterious source of more than $2 million that had been spent on television ads to help Lake win her Republican primary contest against wealthy developer Karrin Taylor Robson.

Arizona – Arizona Governor Seeks Ethics Review of Former Attorney General

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 2/25/2023

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is seeking a review of what her office alleges was “likely unethical conduct” by the state’s former attorney general, Mark Brnovich. A letter sent from the governor’s office to the State Bar of Arizona follows the disclosure of records showing Brnovich, a Republican, withheld findings by his own investigators refuting claims of fraud in the 2020 election and mischaracterized his office’s probe of voting in the state’s largest county. The letter signed calls the conduct “harmful to our democracy, our State, and the legal profession itself.”

California – California Business Groups File Lawsuit Seeking to Block New Campaign Finance Law

MSN – Theresa Clift (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 2/24/2023

A new lawsuit seeks to block a state law that requires city and county elected officials to recuse themselves from certain decisions that would financially benefit any entity or person that donated over $250 to that official’s campaign in the past year. It allows the official to return the money to cast a vote. The law applies to permits, licenses, and contracts, and might also be expanded to things like rezoning for development projects, said the bill’s author. The suit alleges lawmakers never had the authority to amend the Political Reform Act of 1974 in such a significant way.

California – Anaheim Officials Reverse Course and Fully Fund an Independent City Corruption Probe

Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio and Hosam Elattar | Published: 3/1/2023

The Anaheim City Council decided to fully fund an independent, city-commissioned corruption probe after hesitating earlier in February, which fueled outcry amongst many residents and activist groups. Council members also voted to allow investigators to share information about possible criminal misconduct with the district attorney’s office. The investigation was launched in August after revelations of an FBI corruption probe, in which federal agents allege Disneyland resort area interests and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce wielded outsized influence on policy making at City Hall. They help fund city council campaigns.

Colorado – A Piece of Colorado Capitol History Is for Sale on eBay for $9,000. State Officials Want It Back.

Colorado Sun – Jessie Paul | Published: 3/1/2023

Sage Naumann, a former staffer at the Colorado Legislature, was conducting his occasional nerd search of state relics on eBay when an item caught his eye: “ORIGINAL BRONZE WALL SCONCE FROM THE COLORADO STATE CAPITOL BLDG. IN DENVER COLO.” The list price was $8,995. The Capitol Building Advisory Committee determined it wants the sconce – a decorative light fixture – back. The eBay listing has prompted a larger discussion about how to get missing Capitol relics back when they are discovered.

Florida – Jason Brodeur Wants Pay-to-Play Blog Posts About Elected Officials Reported with the State

Florida Politics – Jacob Ogles | Published: 3/1/2023

Florida could require blogs paid to produce content about elected officials to register and report that activity. Senate Bill 1316 requires reporting with the state “if a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post.” Under the bill, bloggers must file monthly reports that list what posts mention those officials, along with disclosing any individual who paid for the posts and the amount paid.

Florida – DeSantis Takes Over Disney District, Punishing Company

MSN – Anthony Izaguirre (Associated Press) | Published: 2/27/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that gives him control of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district, punishing the company over its opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The bill requires DeSantis to appoint a five-member board to oversee the government services the Disney district provides in its theme park properties in Florida. The signing came as DeSantis gears up for an expected presidential run and marks a high-profile legislative victory for a governor whose leveraging of cultural and political divides has pushed him to the front of national Republican politics.

Florida – Federal Judge Blocks Part of Florida Law Banning Elected Officials from Lobbying Other Governments

MSN – Anthony Man (South Florida Sun Sentinel) | Published: 2/28/2023

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom struck down part of Florida’s ban on paid lobbying by elected officials. The temporary injunction prohibits enforcement of the provision that bars elected officials from paid lobbying on behalf of clients before any other government entity. The judge let stand a six-year ban on certain lobbying activities by former government officials once they leave office. The law has already had an impact. Some elected officials who have worked as lobbyists stopped. Others resigned their government posts.

Florida – DeSantis Wants to Roll Back Press Freedoms – with an Eye Toward Overturning Supreme Court Ruling

Yahoo News – Matt Dixon (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023

At the Gov. Ron DeSantis’s urging, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature is pushing to weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits. The proposal is part DeSantis’s ongoing feud with media companies he claims are biased against Republicans as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid. The proposal is being positioned to spark a larger legal battle with the goal of eventually overturning New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation.

Georgia – Judge Overseeing Trump Georgia Grand Jury Speaks After Foreperson’s Controversial Interviews

Yahoo News – Olivia Rubin (ABC News) | Published: 2/27/2023

After the foreperson of the grand jury investigating former President Trump and a push to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia spoke out in several headline-making interviews, the judge overseeing the case said jurors “can talk about the final report.” But Judge Robert McBurney noted the matter can get “problematic” if jurors start to “synthesize the testimony” and the group’s thoughts on it. The foreperson, Emily Kohrs, gave interviews to news outlets regarding her work as a juror, including that the panel had recommended indictments against multiple people.

Illinois – In 4 Years, Lori Lightfoot Went from Breakout Political Star to Divisive Mayor of a Chicago Beset by Pandemic and Crime

MSN – Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/1/2023

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s failure to advance to a runoff election represents an astonishing fall from power four years after she was ushered into City Hall with a promise of reform. Instead, Lightfoot struggled through a storm of skyrocketing crime, the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of personality conflicts that left her labeled as a divisive leader who was unable to build political coalitions or maintain relationships.

Massachusetts – Several Thorny Political Corruption Cases Await New Attorney General Andrea Campbell

MSN – Samantha Gross (Boston Globe) | Published: 2/26/2023

Among the many different types of crimes that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office investigates, none present quite the minefield as the prosecution of another politician. Some previous state prosecutors pursued such cases with vigor. Others, less so. And either way, they usually got criticized, for being too zealous or too timid. The newly elected attorney general, Andrea Campbell, inherited several high-profile political cases, including allegations of illegal campaign finance activity by a sitting state senator and the former head of the Massachusetts GOP and pending criminal charges against a former state senator and congressional candidate.

Montana – Lawmakers Look to Define Investigative Authority After Judicial Conflict

Helena Independent Record – Seaborn Larson | Published: 3/1/2023

After the Montana Legislature’s investigation into the judiciary last session was blocked by the courts’ finding they had lacked authority to do so, Republicans worked to fill that gap. Senate Bill 490 would provide a scope and use of the Legislature’s “investigative powers.” The state Supreme Court in 2021 found lawmakers needed a legislative purpose to investigate the judiciary.

New Jersey – Assembly Postpones Vote on Bill That Could Gut Some NJ Campaign Finance Rules

MSN – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 2/27/2023

The New Jersey Assembly postponed a vote on an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that would eviscerate “pay-to-play” rules, give the governor more control over the agency that polices election law, and increase what individuals and companies can donate. Assemblyperson Carol Murphy confirmed the chamber did not have enough votes to pass the measure and pulled the bill to take a closer look at the last-minute amendments.

New Mexico – Bill to End Gag on Ethics Complainants Clears Committee

NM Political Report – Susan Dunlap | Published: 2/25/2023

The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that would allow someone who files an ethics complaint in New Mexico to speak publicly on the matter. The current law prohibits both the complainant and committee staff from speaking publicly about a complaint. House Bill 169 generated a discussion around the constitutional right to free speech.

New Mexico – Trump Cowboy Found Not Guilty of Campaign Finance Charge

Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 3/1/2023

Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin was found not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of failing to register a political committee in New Mexico. Cowboys for Trump staged horseback parades to spread Donald Trump’s conservative message on issues. Griffin invoked free speech protections in declining to register and disclose donors the group, while expressing concern that contributors might be harassed.

New York – Democrats Seek to Close Lobbying Loophole on Nominations Exposed by LaSalle Fight

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 2/27/2023

New York Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to close an apparent lobbying loophole for nominations to statewide positions that require confirmation. The loophole allows for individuals or groups seeking to influence the vote of senators on a nominee without having to report their activities to the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. “The danger in people trying to influence judicial appointments is just as great, if not greater, than for those trying to influence legislation,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. “To somehow allow that influence to be exerted in secrecy makes absolutely no sense.”

New York – Could Public Campaign Finance Unlaunch in New York?

City & State – Rebecca Lewis | Published: 2/28/2023

It has been reported that despite the new statewide public campaign finance system’s official launch in November, legislative leaders in New York may push to postpone payouts for two years even as lawmakers and other candidates have begun to sign up. Good government advocates have touted the program as a way to reduce corruption by reducing the influence of big-dollar donors. Opponents have argued that taxpayer money should not pay for lawmakers’ elections.

North Carolina – Federal Court of Appeals Rules NC’s Ag-Gag Law Is Unconstitutional, Signals a Win for Whistleblowers

NC Policy Watch – Lisa Sorg | Published: 2/24/2023

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that North Carolina’s “ag-gag law” is unconstitutional and infringes on free speech. The Property Protection Act allows courts to assess civil fines on employees who took videos or photos, or even took handwritten notes, of a business’s non-public areas to document alleged wrongdoing, and then passed that information to anyone besides the employer or law enforcement. The fines were $5,000 per day, plus attorney’s fees.

Ohio – A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Ohio Enacted the Most Restrictive Voter Photo ID Law in America

Ohio Capital Journal – Zurie Pope | Published: 3/1/2023

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 458 in January, enacting what has been called one of the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the country. Public records show how the law moved through the process, with lawmakers often ignoring moderation suggestions proposed by the secretary of state’s office and a law firm that lobbied on the measure. Republican leaders insist the new voting restrictions were necessary, despite no evidence of significant voter fraud.

Ohio – Norfolk Southern Plied Ohio Politicians with Campaign Cash, Extensive Lobbying

WSYX – Darrell Rowland | Published: 2/23/2023

Almost exactly a month before a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spewed hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, the company gave the maximum $10,000 to help bankroll Gov. Mike DeWine’s inaugural festivities. The railway company contributed about $98,000 during the past six years to Ohio statewide and legislative candidates. It also filed more than 200 quarterly reports disclosing the lobbying of state officials or legislators in the same period. Most of the lobbying was on generic transportation issues. Some efforts were devoted to defeating legislation that would have established tougher safety standards for train operations.

Pennsylvania – Shapiro Admin Contends Taking Super Bowl Tickets Didn’t Violate Governor’s Own Gift Ban

MSN – Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso (Spotlight PA) | Published: 2/22/2023

Under a policy instituted in January, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and executive branch employees are not allowed to accept tickets to recreational events such as football games. The ban states these employees cannot accept such a gift from any “person or entity” that “has financial relations with the Commonwealth.” But Team Pennsylvania – a public-private partnership that works to improve the state’s “competitiveness and economic prosperity” – paid for Shapiro and his staff’s flights, lodging, and tickets for the Super Bowl in Arizona this year. The state has given the group over $17.2 million in contracts since 2007.

Pennsylvania – Ex-Philly Councilmember Bobby Henon Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years in Union Bribery Case

MSN – Jeremy Roebuck and Oona Goodin-Smith (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/1/2023

A federal judge sentenced former city council member Bobby Henon to three-and-one-half years in prison, calling his conviction on bribery charges a case that “exposed the dirty underbelly of how Philadelphia politics works.” U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said Henon deserved his prison term for essentially selling his office to labor leader John Dougherty in exchange for a $70,000-a-year union salary.

Pennsylvania – Lobbyist Says She Was Sexually Harassed by Pa. Lawmaker Mike Zabel, Calls on Him to Resign

Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 3/1/2023

Andi Perez a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, says Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Zabel sexually harassed her and called for him to resign. Perez did not name Zabel when she publicly shared her story in January. She said an unnamed lawmaker harassed her while they discussed a bill outside of the Capitol. Spotlight PA spoke to a woman who was with Perez at the time of the incident and corroborated Perez’s story. Spotlight PA also viewed a text message Zabel sent to Perez the day after she said the harassment occurred, in which he confirmed the two met and apologized for his “bad manners at times.”

Pennsylvania – McClinton Voted Pa. Speaker; First Black Woman to Win Post

Yahoo News – Mark Scolforo (Associated Press) | Published: 2/28/2023

State Rep. Joanna McClinton became the first woman to serve as speaker of the Pennsylvania House, ascending to the chamber’s top position on the strength of a fresh one-vote Democratic majority. The leadership reshuffling came nearly two months after Rep. Mark Rozzi became the surprise choice for speaker. Democrats flipped a net of 12 seats in November to retake majority control by the narrowest of margins after more than a decade, but their control did not become effective until their candidates won three special elections in February.

South Carolina – SC House Freedom Caucus Takes Colleagues to Federal Court on Free Speech Grounds

MSN – Joseph Bustos (The State) | Published: 2/28/2023

The South Carolina House Freedom Caucus is taking its colleagues to federal court. The caucus, an ultra-conservative wing of House Republicans, filed a lawsuit against Ethics Committee members over free speech grounds. The group is asking the court to equal the playing field for legislative caucuses, allowing them, most importantly, to solicit donations similar to the two main party caucuses in the lower chamber. State ethics law only allows the Republican, Democratic, Legislative Black Caucus, and Women’s caucuses to raise money, openly advocate for candidates and hire staff.

Tennessee – Gov. Bill Lee Will Sign Drag Bill, Reacts to Yearbook Photo Showing Him Dressed as a Woman

MSN – Josh Keefe (Tennessean) | Published: 2/27/2023

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he intends to sign an antidrug show bill into law when it reaches his desk, the first time he has publicly taken a position on the legislation. Lee also said comparisons between the performances targeted in the bill and an old yearbook picture of him dressed in woman’s clothes were “ridiculous.” In 2019, Lee said he regretted attending “Old South” parties while an undergraduate student at Auburn University after a yearbook photo showed him dressed as a Confederate soldier.

Texas – Two GOP Legislators in Harris County Want to Let the State Replace Local Elections Administrators

Texas Tribune – Natalia Contreras (Votebeat) | Published: 2/27/2023

Bills filed by Republican lawmakers in response to Harris County’s mismanagement of its recent elections could give the Texas secretary of state the authority to step in, suspend county election administrators when a complaint is filed and appoint a replacement administrator. Election administration experts said the legislation was an overreaction to the desire to hold Harris County accountable for years of election mismanagement and would disrupt the state’s ability to help county election offices improve and address systemic problems.

Wyoming – Bouchard Reprimanded by Senate Leadership; Lawmaker Doubles Down on Social Media

Wyoming Tribune Eagle – Jasmine Hall | Published: 3/1/2023

Wyoming Senate leaders issued a formal letter of reprimand against Sen. Anthony Bouchard for his behavior that led to a second ethics complaint in less than a year. The most recent complaint was filed by nurse practitioner Jennifer James, who had testified in the House Appropriations Committee on a bill sponsored by Bouchard. He used an obscenity in a text message to James for her comments on the bill regarding the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

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