News You Can Use Digest - March 31, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

March 31, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 31, 2023


Former Trump Officials Must Testify in 2020 Election Inquiry, Judge Says

DNyuz – Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2023

A federal judge ruled a number of former officials from former President Trump’s administration – including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows – cannot invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying to a grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Prosecutors are likely to be especially eager to hear from Meadows, who refused to be interviewed by the House select committee that investigated the attack on the Capitol. Meadows was a central player in various efforts to help Trump reverse the election outcome in a number of contested states.

A Campaign Aide Didn’t Write That Email. A.I. Did.

DNyuz – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 3/28/2023

Inside political campaigns, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to soon help perform mundane tasks that previously required fleets of interns. Republican and Democratic engineers alike are racing to develop tools to harness AI to make advertising more efficient, to engage in predictive analysis of public behavior, to write more and more personalized copy, and to discover new patterns in mountains of voter data. The technology is evolving so fast that most predict a profound impact, even if specific ways in which it will upend the political system are more speculation than science.

Fetterman Set to Return to Senate Week of April 17

MSN – Al Weaver (The Hill) | Published: 3/29/2023

Sources said U.S. Sen. John Fetterman is set to return to the Senate the week of April 17. He has been absent since mid-February after checking himself into Walter Reed Medical Military Hospital with clinical depression. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said he met with his fellow Keystone State lawmaker recently and was pleased to see how he was doing.

How TikTok Built a ‘Team of Avengers’ to Fight for Its Life

MSN – Hailey Fuchs, Clothilde Goujard, and Daniel Lippman (Politico) | Published: 3/30/2023

TikTok’s battle for survival has become a vivid study in how a wealthy, foreign-owned corporation can use its financial might to build an impressive-looking network of influence, and in the limitations of what lobbying can do to protect a company at the center of a firestorm. A Politico investigation revealed an effort by TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, dating back to at least 2018, long before concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership reached their current pitch.

House’s Monthly Pay Cycle, an Inconvenience for Some, Could Get Review

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 3/30/2023

When money gets low, some Capitol Hill staffers hit up receptions for free food. Others, especially junior staffers, work multiple jobs to get them from one paycheck to the next. Still others run up credit card debt while working in the halls of Congress. The low pay for staff has been an issue for years. But the infrequency of the paychecks, just one per month, can compound the problem.

Schools Forced to Divert Staff Amid Historic Flood of Records Requests

MSN – Hannah Natanson and Karina Elwood (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023

School districts across the nation are facing a mounting pile of increasingly complex records requests from parents, community members, or attorneys representing education advocacy groups – all of whom say they want greater transparency about how local children are educated. The focus is on curriculum documentation or the contents of emails between school board members, as concerns have spread over what public schools are teaching about race, gender and sexual orientation.

Indicted Chinese Exile Controls Gettr Social Media Site, Ex-Employees Say

MSN – Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 3/26/2023

An exiled Chinese tycoon indicted in New York in a billion-dollar fraud case controls the conservative social media platform Gettr and used it to promote cryptocurrencies and propaganda, former employees said. They said the arrested expatriate, Guo Wengui, and his longtime money manager, William Je, called the shots at the company while Donald Trump senior adviser Jason Miller was its chief executive and public face. The revelations show a man accused of massive fraud on two continents climbed high into Trump’s political sphere and dictated messaging at a social media site that reaches millions of Americans.

Activist Group Led by Ginni Thomas Received Nearly $600,000 in Anonymous Donations

MSN – Shawn Boberg and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/28/2023

A Washington Post investigation sheds new light on the role money from donors who are not publicly identified has played in supporting Ginni Thomas’s political advocacy, long a source of controversy. She is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. A conservative activist group led by Ginni Thomas collected nearly $600,000 in anonymous donations to wage a cultural battle against the left. Contributions to Crowdsourcers for Culture and Liberty were channeled through a right-wing think tank that agreed to serve as a funding conduit from 2019 until the start of last year.

AP Sources: Judge rules Pence must testify before grand jury

MSN – Jill Colvin and Eric Tucker (Associated Press) | Published: 3/28/2023

A federal judge ruled former Vice President Mike Pence will have to testify before a grand jury in the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Sources said Pence would not have to answer questions about his actions on January 6, 2021, as Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory. But he would have to testify about any potential illegal acts committed by Trump.

Supreme Court Justices Under New Ethics Disclosures on Trips, Other Gifts

MSN – Jonathan O’Connell and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 3/28/2023

Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, must follow strengthened financial disclosure requirements surrounding gifts they receive. The new requirements mark a technical but significant change that lawmakers and transparency advocates hope will lead to more disclosure by judges and justices. The revisions come after years of pressure from members of Congress, who say the judiciary should follow ethics guidelines closer to those that apply to the executive and legislative branches.

Lindsey Graham Publicly Admonished for Fundraising on Capitol Grounds

MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 3/24/2023

A nine-minute Fox News appearance last year earned U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham a public admonishment from the Senate Ethics Committee because in the video, he solicited campaign contributions for former candidate Herschel Walker while standing on Capitol grounds. The committee acknowledged Graham self-reported his actions to them. The committee also noted this is not the first time Graham violated Senate rules banning fundraising appeals on federal property.

Republicans Face Setbacks in Push to Tighten Voting Laws on College Campuses

Yahoo News – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 3/29/2023

Alarmed over young people increasingly proving to be a force for Democrats at the ballot box, Republican lawmakers in a number of states have been trying to enact new obstacles to voting for college students. Out of 17 states that generally require voter ID, five do not accept any student IDs. Proponents of such restrictions often say they are needed to prevent voter fraud, even though instances of fraud are rare. Two lawsuits were filed in state and federal court shortly after Idaho’s Republican governor, Brad Little, signed a student ID prohibition into law on March 15.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Approve Loosening of Ethical Lobbying Rules

Western Standard – Lee Harding | Published: 3/27/2023

In a letter to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger, the House of Commons Ethics Committee approved of the commissioner’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Committee members aid they wanted Belanger to formalize the ability of lobbyists to offer “sponsored travel” junket trips to members of Parliament and their family members and associates “where they serve a legitimate purpose.” They approved the increase on the annual limit on gifts from a lobbyist to $200, and on hospitality to $200.

Arizona – Arizona Court Declines Most of Lake’s Appeal Over Gov’s Race

MSN – Jacques Billeaud (Associated Press) | Published: 3/23/2023

The Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear most of Kari Lake’s appeal in a challenge of her defeat in the governor’s race but revived a claim that was dismissed by a trial court. Lake, who lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republican candidates promoting Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake did not.

Arizona – Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Spokesperson Resigns After Twitter Post Invoking Gun Violence

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 3/29/2023

Arizona – Arizona State Rep. Liz Harris Says Constitution Required Her to Allow Baseless Cartel Bribery Claims

Yahoo News – Ray Stern (Arizona Republic) | Published: 3/23/2023

A lawmaker whose invited guest speaker accused public officials and the LDS church of conspiring with a Mexican drug cartel told an Arizona House ethics panel she had a constitutional duty to allow the testimony. Rep. Liz Harris was hit with a complaint after her guest, insurance agent Jacqueline Breger, presented the allegations at a joint Senate and House elections committee hearing. Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, who filed the complaint, said the presentation amounted to “disorderly conduct” by Harris and made Arizona a “national joke.”

Colorado – Proposal to Cap Candidate Contributions in Colorado’s Local Elections Advances

Colorado Politics – Hannah Metzger | Published: 3/27/2023

Colorado could soon establish a statewide limit on donations made to candidates in local elections if a new bill is passed into law. House Bill 1245 would cap contributions from individuals at $250 and donations from small-donor committees at $2,500 in municipal elections, among other provisions. Karen Goldman with the Colorado Municipal Clerks Association raised concerns about elements of the bill intended to increase transparency in campaign contributions, calling the proposed changes “excessive and unworkable.”

Connecticut – Legislator’s Arrest Places Spotlight on Drinking at Connecticut State Capitol

Yahoo News – Christopher Keating (Hartford Courant) | Published: 3/26/2023

In previous years, organized parties with live music and copious amounts of alcohol kept lawmakers at the Capitol in Hartford until dawn on the session’s final day. Legislative receptions often featured liquor, including an annual wine tasting at the same time House and Senate members were debating in nearby chambers. The issue gained increased attention following the arrest of Rep. Robin Comey, who had been at a bar with three other legislators. Comey was driving a Honda Civic in a narrow section of Capitol Avenue near the Red Rock Tavern when her car flipped upside down and landed on its roof.

District of Columbia – D.C. Campaign Finance Office Tosses Complaints About Silverman’s Poll

MSN – Michael Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023

The District of Columbia’s Office of Campaign Finance has dismissed a third and final complaint related to former city council member Elissa Silverman’s decision to poll last year’s Ward 3 Democratic primary election, concluding a controversial saga the erstwhile lawmaker says cost her a seat on the council. Silverman turned some heads in June when she said she polled the Ward 3 race and discussed the results with two candidates in that contest who had asked for her endorsement.

Florida – Florida Bill Would Shield DeSantis’s Travel Records

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2023

Florida lawmakers moved to shield Gov. Ron DeSantis’s travel records from the public, proposing to change the state’s public information laws just as the governor ramps up what is expected to be a 2024 presidential campaign. The bill includes a sweeping retroactive clause that would block the release of many records of trips already taken by DeSantis and other officials, as well as their families and staff members. In recent months, the governor has traveled widely as he promotes a new book and moves toward a White House bid.

Florida – DeSantis Wants ‘Media Accountability.’ A New Bill Makes Suing Journalists Easier.

MSN – Elahe Izadi and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 3/23/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to challenge Donald Trump and a growing field for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, has made open antipathy toward “corporate media” a key part of his brand in his ascent in conservative politics. A new bill moving through the Legislature appears to codify DeSantis’s combative stance toward media and his portrayal of journalists as partisan players who lack accountability by making it far easier to sue news organizations for defamation and win.

Florida – Disney Quietly Dodged DeSantis’s Oversight Board, Appointees Realize

MSN – Bryan Pietsch (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023

The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the previous board of passing an 11th-hour agreement in cahoots with the company that has hamstrung it from much of its administrative power over the amusement park. In an apparent retaliation for Disney’s critique of a DeSantis-backed bill, the governor replaced the previous Disney-friendly oversight board with a new panel made up entirely of his own appointees, including religious and conservative activists.

Illinois – Out-of-State PAC Backing Conservative School Board Candidates Hasn’t Disclosed Spending

Yahoo News – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/28/2023

A New York-based PAC backing conservative candidates in local school board races in Illinois has not disclosed what it is spending on mailers that began arriving in Chicago-area mailboxes recently as required under state law, according to state election officials. While the 1776 Project is registered with the FEC, Illinois campaign finance law requires independent expenditure committees that spend money on races in the state to register. Since it is not even registered with the state, the 1776 Project had not reported any such spending one week before Election Day.

Illinois – ‘ComEd Four’ Trial Offering a Fascinating and Unprecedented Look into the Inner Workings of Madigan’s Political Power

Yahoo News – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/26/2023

Through wiretapped conversations, internal documents, and the sworn accounts of key insiders, federal prosecutors in a corruption trial have laid bare the inner workings of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s extraordinary power. Before resigning, Madigan held sway over the fate of legislation and the political and professional futures of hordes of lawmakers, lobbyists, and job seekers. Proving Madigan’s influence is a key element of the prosecution’s case against four associates of the former speaker accused of conspiring to bribe him to help Commonwealth Edison’s legislative agenda.

Maryland – Baltimore Board of Ethics Makes Mosby Defense Fund Donor List Public, Minus Names of Donors

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/23/2023

A list of donors to a legal-defense fund established to benefit Baltimore political power couple Nick and Marilyn Mosby became public, minus the names of the more than 130 donors. The list was expected to offer a public accounting of who gave to the fund. The fund was at the center of a Board of Ethics ruling against Nick Mosby, the Baltimore City Council president. The board found he violated the ethics ordinance by indirectly soliciting for the fund and by failing to include it on his annual ethics disclosure form. After contesting the ruling for nearly a year, Mosby complied with an order from the board to provide information about the fund.

New Jersey – N.J. Election Watchdog Declines to Discipline Executive Director Over Alleged Anti-Gay Email

MSN – Matt Arco (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/28/2023

The head of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) will not be disciplined for allegations of workplace homophobia, racism, and insubordination after members of the commission cleared him of wrongdoing. The hearing for ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle was held after a colleague filed a complaint about an email Brindle sent in response to a National Coming Out Day announcement. It also came as the Legislature is considering a controversial bill that would reshape ELEC, including allowing Gov. Phil Murphy to replace the agency’s current commissioners and ultimately oust Brindle.

New Jersey – Critics Slam Lawmakers’ Push to Raise Campaign Donation Limits

New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 3/30/2023

New Jersey lawmakers in both chambers are set to approve an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that, among numerous other things, would drastically increase how much donors can give to candidates and political parties. The bill, expected to receive final votes in the state Assembly and Senate on March 30, would double the $2,600 limit on contributions to candidates, roughly double the $37,000 cap on donations to county political parties, and triple the $25,000 maximum contribution limit to committees run by the state political parties and the Legislature’s leaders.

New Mexico – Steak Dinners and Ski Passes: As lobbyists spend to influence New Mexico Legislature, 2 lawmakers seek more transparency

Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 3/23/2023

State Sens. Jeff Steinborn and Mark Moores say New Mexico’s lobbyist reporting requirements miss critical information. They pushed for legislation this year that would require lobbyists to disclose what bills they are lobbying on and the position they take. Senate Bill 218 advanced through one committee but died without reaching the full Senate for a vote. Meager as the required spending reports are, Steinborn said, they nevertheless hint at lobbyists’ influence.

New Mexico – Council Walks Back Campaign Code Rewrite

Santa Fe Reporter – Andrew Oxford | Published: 3/29/2023

Santa Fe’s mayor and city council walked back proposed changes to local campaign finance rules after the municipal ethics board raised concerns the update – coming just months before an election – could lead to less transparency about who is spending money to influence voters. City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic backed the election code rewrite as a means of simplifying Santa Fe’s labyrinthine campaign rules and more closely aligning local policies with state law.

New Mexico – NM Legislators Fail to Pass Ethical Conduct Bill as Lobbyists Fear Unsafe Working Conditions

Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/23/2023

An effort to update and standardize professional conduct standards for public employees, including lawmakers, failed to get through the 2023 legislative session. As a result, lobbyists say people who work and visit the Roundhouse will still need to assign their own measures to feel safe in Santa Fe. The current guidelines already say public employees cannot ask for money or something else of value in exchange for a vote or other official favors, but this bill would have specified that sexual acts also cannot be traded.

New York – NYC Councilwoman Inna Vernikov Used Government Email to Solicit Business

MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 3/26/2023

New York City Councilperson Inna Vernikov used her government email account to solicit business for a self-defense company she has been involved with. In an email from her government account to constituents, Vernikov wrote she has “partnered with” Legion to offer classes in Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art. Vernikov said she is no longer on Legion’s board. Richard Briffault, a former chairperson of the Conflicts of Interest Board, said Vernikov likely violated ethics law even if she is not currently involved with Legion in a formal capacity, as the rules bar public officials from using “any city resources for any non-city purpose.”

North Carolina – N.C. Board Removes Election Officials Who Refused to Certify

Yahoo News – Hannah Schoenbaum (Associated Press) | Published: 3/28/2023

The North Carolina State Board of Elections removed two local election officials who had refused to certify their county’s 2022 results after officials determined they violated state law. The elections board voted unanimously to dismiss Surry County elections secretary Jerry Forestieri and board member Timothy DeHaan in one of the strongest disciplinary actions taken against local officials across the U.S. who have delayed or refused to certify election results.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Rep. Dean Davis Claimed ‘Legislative Immunity’ During His Arrest. Are State Officials Really Exempt?

Yahoo News – Jessie Christopher Smith (Oklahoman) | Published: 3/28/2023

The circumstances and fallout regarding the arrest of Oklahoma Rep. Dean Davis have generated discussion about constitutional privileges for lawmakers and the exact boundaries of the protection. During his arrest at a bar in Oklahoma City, Davis presented his legislative identification card to police, asking an officer to read it aloud. The card contains language from the state constitution that prohibits a legislator from being arrested under certain circumstances. After reading the card, the officer told Davis he was not at the Capitol, and he was going to be arrested on a complaint of public drunkenness.

Oregon – Port of Morrow Commissioners, Already Under Investigation, Keep Voting on Amazon’s Data Center Tax Deals

MSN – Mike Rogoway (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/24/2023

Two commissioners at the Port of Morrow who each own a stake in Amazon’s local fiber-optics provider voted recently to give the city of Boardman a share of new tax deals for data centers the company wants to build outside city limits. They voted even though their prior votes on the port’s dealings with Amazon, a customer of their fiber business, are already the subject of a state ethics investigation. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has said state law allows these latest votes, provided they acknowledge publicly they might profit from the deals.

Virginia – Lawsuit Filed Over Nomination Method for One Va. GOP Race

MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023

A court feud has erupted over the method of nomination Virginia Republicans will use in one state Senate race, with one party official arguing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chief of staff and the attorney general put pressure on the state elections commissioner to change a primary to a convention. The case puts the spotlight back on the arcane business of nomination selection that split the party as Youngkin sought his party’s gubernatorial nomination. At that time, the multimillionaire political newcomer sought a primary, a format that tends to favor candidates with more money, and accused one of his rivals of trying to tilt the playing field toward a convention.

Washington – Those Mailers Telling You to Call Your Elected Leaders? They May Soon Tell You Who Paid for Them

KNKX – Scott Greenstone | Published: 3/27/2023

Legislation advancing in Washington would require groups sponsoring ads that urge people to contact lawmakers about a bill to list their major donors. When the Legislature is in session, the bill would require groups lobbying the public to register who paid for and worked on the campaign within 24 hours of the ad being presented to the public.

West Virginia – PSC Orders Audit of Mon Power, Potomac Edison Lobbying Expenses

Charleston Gazette – Mike Tony | Published: 3/27/2023

Wisconsin – Costly Court Race Points to a Politicized Future for Judicial Elections

DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 3/28/2023

The campaign for a swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court – officially nonpartisan but positively awash in partisanship – brings together the old and new ways of judicial politics in America and offers a preview of what might be to come. The race could lead to a sea change in how state Supreme Court races are contested in the other where high court justices are elected, injecting never-before-seen amounts of money, politicization, and voter interest.

Wisconsin – Wis. School Blocks 1st-Graders from Singing ‘Rainbowland’ in Spring Show

MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 3/29/2023

Melissa Tempel’s first grade class at Heyer Elementary School in Wisconsin has spent weeks preparing for its upcoming spring concert. Students were set to perform “Rainbowland,” a duet by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton, with lyrics that advocate for inclusion. But within one day of students learning the song, Tempel said school administration asked her to remove “Rainbowland” from the concert. The district said it called for the song to be removed because its lyrics “could be deemed controversial” according to a school board policy on controversial issues in the classroom.

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