News You Can Use Digest - May 12, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

May 12, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 12, 2023


Tanked Biden FCC Pick Shows Influence of Dark Money on US Politics

ABC News – Trenton Daniel (Associated Press) | Published: 5/8/2023

When Gigi Sohn was nominated to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, she found herself the target of an aggressive campaign funded by a conservative group that does not have to disclose its donors. The American Accountability Foundation called Sohn too partisan, anti-police, and soft on sex trafficking. The attacks landed to the point that even some Democrats abandoned her and Sohn withdrew her nomination. The battle over the nomination is the latest example of how organizations with political and financial agendas have been able to sway public opinion by deploying donations that are impossible to trace.

George Santos Pleads Not Guilty to Duping Donors, Stealing Campaign Cash to Burnish Wealthy Image

Associated Press News – Jake Offenhartz and Michael Sisak | Published: 5/10/2023

U.S. Rep. George Santos, infamous for fabricating his life story, pleaded not guilty to charges he duped donors, stole from his campaign, and lied to Congress about being a millionaire, all while cheating to collect unemployment benefits that he did not deserve. The thirteen-count indictment was a reckoning for a web of fraud and deceit that prosecutors say overlapped with his fantastical public image as a wealthy businessperson, a fictional biography that began to unravel after he won election last fall.

Jan. 6 Rioter Gets 14 Years for Police Attacks, Longest Sentence Yet in Inquiry

DNyuz – Alan Feurer and Zach Montague (New York Times) | Published: 5/6/2023

A Pennsylvania welder who attacked police officers at the Capitol with a chair and then chemical spray was sentenced to slightly more than 14 years in prison, the most severe penalty handed down so far in connection with the events of January 6, 2021. Peter Schwartz joined a growing list of people charged with assaulting the police on that day who have received stiff sentences.

Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, 3 Others Guilty of Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy

MSN – Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/4/2023

Former Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and three other members of the extremist group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The result was another victory for the Justice Department in the latest of three seditious conspiracy trials held after what it called a historic act of domestic terrorism to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.

Senate Panel Asks Crow for Full Accounting of Gifts to Thomas, Other Justices

MSN – Liz Goodwin and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2023

The Senate Judiciary Committee asked billionaire Harlan Crow to provide a full accounting of the free travel and other gifts he has made to Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas or any other justice, marking an escalation of the committee’s efforts to convince the court to adopt stricter ethical standards for itself. The committee is the second Senate panel to target Crow after ProPublica reported he invited Thomas on expensive vacations, bought his mother’s house, and provided Thomas’s grandnephew with private school tuition, most of which were not disclosed by the justice.

Feinstein Returning to Washington After Health-Related Absence

MSN – Amy Wang and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein will return to U.S. Capitol after a health-related absence that lasted more than two months. Her absence has stalled confirmations of some of President Biden’s judicial nominees, given that only judges with some Republican support can move to the floor without her tiebreaking vote on the committee. Her vote could also be crucial in negotiations over lifting the debt ceiling.

New White House Rules: Reporters can be kicked out if not ‘professional.’

MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023

The White House proposed new rules to determine who qualifies for access to its press briefing room on a regular basis and who can be thrown out for behavior officials determine is not “professional.” The rules represent the Biden White House’s attempt to establish a code of conduct to avoid the legal jeopardy the Trump administration ran into when it banished CNN reporter Jim Acosta and journalist Brian Karem from the White House complex. Courts later ruled officials violated the journalists’ due-process rights because they had acted without a set of written standards.

In Some GOP-Dominated Statehouses, Black and Trans Lawmakers Punished

MSN – Patrick Marley and Kimberly Kindy (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023

In more than a dozen red states, Republican lawmakers passed bills to ban transgender health care and restrict access to abortions while ignoring calls for gun control measures. The fierce but futile opposition has often been led by a new generation of liberal lawmakers, some of them Black or transgender, who have represented their constituents by pushing the debate into places that have angered Republicans. GOP lawmakers have said Democrats are welcome to dissent but must follow rules of decorum, including acting civilly and not interrupting floor sessions. In some states, Republicans have voted to punish those lawmakers.

Under the Radar, Right-Wing Push to Tighten Voting Laws Persists

Seattle Times – Nick Corasaniti and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 5/8/2023

The first recent wave of legislation tightening voting laws came in 2021, when Donald. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud spurred Republican lawmakers to act over objections from Democrats. Two years later, a second wave is steadily moving ahead, but largely under the radar. Republican-led Legislatures have continued to pass restrictions on access to the ballot. Behind the efforts is a network of advocacy groups that has formed a new hub of election advocacy within the GOP, rallying state activists, and drafting model legislation.

Clarence Thomas’ Wife Ginni Was Paid Nearly $100,000 for ‘Consulting’ by a Nonprofit That Ended Up Filing an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court: Report

Yahoo News – Erin Snodgrass and Matthew Loh (Business Insider) | Published: 5/4/2023

Leonard Leo, a conservative judicial activist, helped Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, secure consulting work that yielded her nearly $100,000 while asking that her name was left off financial paperwork, according to The Washington Post. Leo told then-pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit he advised, Judicial Education Project, and give that money to Ginni Thomas in January 2012. That year, Leo’s nonprofit filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in a key voting rights case in which a majority that included Thomas ultimately opted to strike down a component of the Voting Rights Act.

New Twitter Rules Expose Election Offices to Spoof Accounts

Yahoo News – Ali Swenson (Associated Press) | Published: 5/6/2023

Impostor accounts on social media are among many concerns that election security experts have heading into next year’s presidential election. Experts have warned that foreign adversaries or others may try to influence the election, either through online disinformation campaigns or by hacking into election infrastructure. Election administrators have struggled to figure out the best way to respond after Twitter owner Elon Musk threw the platform’s verification service into disarray, given that Twitter has been among their most effective tools for communicating with the public.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Tucson Lawmaker Who Hid Bibles Says Ethics Complaint Lacks Merit

Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 5/8/2023

Arizona Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton is asking for the dismissal of an ethics complaint filed against her. Attorneys for Hamilton said her actions to move and hide Bibles in the House lounge was a “peaceful protest regarding the separation of church and state.” The complaint accuses her of theft, saying she was controlling the property of someone else by hiding it, even if only for a short period of time.

California – How Free Trips for California Legislators Lead to Bills

MSN – Jeremia Kimelman and Alexei Koseff (CalMatters) | Published: 5/4/2023

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy for the past four decades has been taking legislators and other state officials on free trips to learn about policy issues – trips funded and attended by representatives of companies and interest groups with business before the state. The trips serve as an influential tool for shaping policymaking at the state Capitol, with lawmakers returning from their travels with new perspectives and ideas on energy, the environment, water, transportation, and housing.

California – Former Top City Attorney Gets 9 Months of Home Detention in DWP Corruption Case

MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/9/2023

A former high-level lawyer in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office was sentenced to nine months of home detention for taking part in an extortion scheme tied to the Department of Water and Power’s (DWP) 2013 billing scandal. Thomas Peters also was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for his role in the corruption case. The sentence was far more lenient than the 18 months in prison sought by federal prosecutors. Peters admitted he threatened to fire one of the city’s outside lawyers unless that person paid off someone who was threatening to reveal damaging information about city lawyers’ handling of the DWP’s billing mess.

Colorado – Colorado Law Prohibits Utilities from Spending Ratepayer Money on Politics

Energy and Policy Institute – Joe Smyth | Published: 5/8/2023

A new law in Colorado prohibits investor-owned utility companies from using ratepayer money to fund trade associations, promotional advertising, certain kinds of lobbying, and other political influence activities. Currently, investor-owned utilities in Colorado charge ratepayers for most of their payments to trade associations, and only charge shareholders for a relatively small portion of the dues the trade associations determine were used for lobbying.

Florida – How Gov. Ron DeSantis Deploys State Police to Enforce Political Agenda

MSN – Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 5/5/2023

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) on-the-ground involvement in a plan to fly migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard speaks to how Gov. Ron DeSantis has increasingly deployed FDLE outside its traditional portfolio and in support of his own political agenda, according to a Washington Post investigation. Former FDLE officials say the governor is taking a dangerous risk by politicizing a statewide police force with a $300 million budget, almost 2,000 employees, and the broad power to launch criminal investigations and make arrests.

Florida – Andrew Gillum Not Guilty of Lying to FBI, Jury Deadlocks on Other Charges

Yahoo News – Jeff Burlew (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 5/4/2023

Jurors found former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum not guilty of lying to the FBI about a “Hamilton” ticket and other gifts he received from undercover FBI agents in New York. They deadlocked on the most serious charges against Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, and his co-defendant, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, involving the misuse of campaign funds. The jury was unable to reach consensus on one count of conspiracy and 17 counts of wire fraud against both defendants. The judge declared a mistrial on the counts that ended with no verdict reached.

Florida – Miami’s Mayor Attends Pricey Heat Playoff Games and Glam Grand Prix Parties. Who Pays?

Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey and Camellia Burris (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/5/2023

Last year, Mayor Francis Suarez attended both the Miami Heat playoffs and Formula One events but was cagey about who picked up the tab. While state ethics laws require elected officials to report any gifts over $100, and records show Suarez eventually disclosed his playoff ticket as a five-figure gift, thousands of dollars of F1-related entertainment remain unaccounted for. Mayors are allowed to accept expensive gifts from non-family members so long as those gifts are reported and do not come from prohibited donors like lobbyists or city vendors, according to Caroline Klancke, executive director of the Florida Ethics Institute.

Florida – Accused ‘Ghost’ Candidate in Osceola County Commission Race Arrested

Yahoo News – Natalia Jaramillo (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 5/8/2023

A former Kissimmee city commissioner accused of being a “ghost” candidate in the 2022 District 4 race for Osceola County Commission is facing 14 criminal charges for campaign finance reporting violations. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began its investigation after Jackie Espinosa, a candidate in the same race, filed a complaint, accusing Carlos Irizarry of being paid to enter the commission election, which she lost to the incumbent. Irizarry was charged with eight counts of willful certification of false or incomplete campaign treasure’s reports and six counts of deliberate failure to report campaign expenditures.

Georgia – 8 False Trump Electors Have Accepted Immunity Deals, Lawyer Says

MSN – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 5/4/2023

Eight Republican activists who falsely claimed to be legitimate presidential electors for Donald Trump have accepted immunity deals from Fani Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney investigating Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election. It is the latest indication of Willis’s advancing investigation, which she recently revealed could result in charges, possibly against Trump himself and a slew of high-profile allies as soon as July.

Georgia – Kemp Signs Bill That Allows Ouster of Local Georgia Prosecutors

MSN – John Wagner and Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 5/5/2023

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation that would create a commission with the power to remove local prosecutors from office, a move Democrats in the state have decried as a power grab that usurps the will of local voters. The bill, which Democrats have vowed to challenge in court, would create an oversight panel that could recall any of the state’s elected district attorneys or solicitors general for several reasons, including “willful misconduct” or “persistent failure to perform his or her duties.”

Georgia – Watchdog Urges FEC to Probe Herschel Walker Campaign Over $535,200 Payment

Yahoo News – Jared Gans (The Hill) | Published: 5/5/2023

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) urged the FEC to investigate former U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign over a payment that Walker allegedly solicited for his company last year. CREW said Walker and his company, HR Talent, violated federal election law in accepting $535,200 a donor believed was being directed to Walker’s campaign. Dennis Washington believed all of the $600,000 he transferred following a solicitation from Walker was for campaign funding. But only $64,800 went to Walker’s campaign fundraising committee, while the rest went to HR Talent.

Illinois – Reformer Quinn Joins Discussion Over Illinois Ethics Laws

MSN – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 5/9/2023

Four political insiders were recently convicted in a wide-ranging bribery case involving Commonwealth Edison’s bribery of the once-powerful speaker of the Illinois House. While a key House Democrat confirmed discussions about a package of ethics reforms were underway, former Gov. Pat Quinn delivered a letter to legislative leaders seeking a special session to adopt more than a half-dozen reforms.

Illinois – A Former Illinois State Senator Convicted in Corruption Scheme Gets a New Job – State Lobbyist

WBEZ – Dan Mihalopoulos | Published: 5/9/2023

Eleven days after completing a prison term for corruption, former Illinois Sen. Thomas Cullerton registered as a state government lobbyist in April. Cullerton pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from a labor union and was sentenced to more than a year in prison. Now, records show Cullerton registered as a lobbyist with Strategia Consulting, a public relations and government affairs firm. On its website, Cullerton is described as the firm’s chief public affairs officer.

Minnesota – Minnesota Passes Sweeping Election Reforms

Courthouse News Service – Andy Monserud | Published: 5/5/2023

Minnesota’s governor signed a number of changes to the state’s election rules into law, including provisions for automatic voting registration and a crackdown on the spread of misinformation intended to stop people from voting. The law is the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since it adopted same-day registration in 1974. Legislation also creates new disclosure requirements for would-be election advertisers and pamphleteers, and bars “foreign influenced” corporations and nonprofits from spending money to influence elections.

Missouri – ‘It Dilutes Their Vote’: Plan to restrict MO ballot measures could face legal trouble

Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 5/8/2023

Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are intent on approving restrictions that make it more difficult for voters to change the state constitution. But a major first-in-the-nation proposal under consideration could violate the U.S. Constitution, some legal experts and lawmakers say. While the GOP-controlled Legislature has flirted with tightening requirements on the state’s initiative petition process for years, a measure that lawmakers are weighing would give rural residents more power in statewide votes on constitutional amendments.

Montana – One Family Has Spearheaded Montana’s Unflinching Conservatism

Yahoo News – Mike Baker and Jacey Fortin (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2023

Montana Rep. Keith Regier has emerged as the patriarch of a new family political dynasty that has injected fresh conservative intensity into debates over abortion, diversity training, and transgender rights. Regier chairs the Senate’s powerful judiciary committee, while his daughter, Amy, leads its counterpart in the House. Regier’s son, Matt, is speaker of the House. The trio of legislators, each wielding a similar brand of conservatism, were among the most powerful proponents of a set of bills that took aim at the rights of transgender people.

New York – A Jury Finds Trump Liable for Battery and Defamation in E. Jean Carroll Trial

NPR – Becky Sullivan | Published: 5/9/2023

A jury found Donald Trump liable for battery and defamation in the lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. The jurors, who deliberated for barely three hours before reaching their unanimous conclusion, did not find that Trump raped Carroll. But they agreed he “sexually abused” her and he defamed her when he refuted her story. Carroll was awarded $5 million in total damages for both claims.

New York – Top New York City Hall Aide Worked Quietly with State Super PAC

Yahoo News – Joe Anuta (Politico) | Published: 5/10/2023

An independent expenditure committee supporting a suite of moderate state Assembly candidates last year received assistance from a previously unknown source – Ingrid Lewis-Martin, New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ chief advisor. Lewis-Martin made phone calls to solicit support for the Committee for a Fair New York and helped select the candidates who would benefit from its largesse. Under state law, New York City officials are allowed to raise money for political causes – except their own candidacy – provided they do it after hours and do not explicitly trade favors.

Pennsylvania – The Super PAC Backing Jeff Brown’s Mayoral Campaign Is Asking a Judge to Toss the City Ethics Board’s Lawsuit

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 5/5/2023

The super PAC that supported Jeff Brown’s mayoral campaign is asking a judge to throw out the Philadelphia Board of Ethics’ lawsuit accusing it of illegally coordinating with Brown, arguing Brown’s work with the group cannot be viewed as coordination because it occurred before he launched his campaign. If the judge agrees, the case could lead to a dramatic change in Philadelphia’s political landscape by making it easier for moneyed interests to work with their preferred candidates as they plan out their campaigns.

Tennessee – House Speaker Indicates Staff, Subcommittee Spent Money in Harassment Case

Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 5/9/2023

Speaker Cameron Sexton is pointing at the Office of Legislative Administration and a Tennessee House ethics subcommittee in the disbursement of $9,000 in the case of a 19-year-old intern harassed by former Rep. Scotty Campbell. Yet an anonymous member of the panel was not aware the subcommittee had the authority to spend money or hand out punishment. The conflicting responses display the vagueness of the Legislature’s Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy, showing how it can be manipulated to cover up wrongdoing.

Texas – Facing Expulsion Vote Over Sexual Misconduct, GOP Lawmaker Resigns in Texas

MSN – Kyle Melnick and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2023

State Rep. Bryan Slaton resigned from his seat one day before his colleagues were slated to vote on whether to expel him from the Texas House after a committee unanimously recommended his dismissal over sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old aide. Slaton’s resignation is effective immediately. The General Investigation Committee accused Slaton in an investigative report of engaging in disorderly conduct – including harassment, serving alcohol to someone underage, and abusing his position.

Virginia – Lobbyists, Corporations Doused Environmental Bills in Virginia’s Legislative Session

Richmond Times-Dispatch – Luca Powell | Published: 5/7/2023

Despite the climate crisis, bills designed to curb pollution and emissions find fierce opposition in the growing, well-financed lobbies that have put down roots in Virginia. Money is the big differentiator between the environmental and industrial lobbies. Most of the former are nonprofits, for which it is illegal to make political donations. Trade groups, law firms, and big companies like Dominion Energy have no such restrictions.

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