News You Can Use Digest - May 14, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

May 14, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 14, 2021


‘A Perpetual Motion Machine’: How disinformation drives voting laws
New York Times – Maggie Astor | Published: 5/13/2021

Former President Trump’s months-long campaign to delegitimize the 2020 election did not overturn the results. But his unfounded claims shattered his supporters’ trust in the electoral system, laying the foundation for numerous Republican-led bills pushing more restrictive voter rules. The bills demonstrate how disinformation can take on a life of its own, forming a feedback loop that shapes policy for years to come. When promoted with sufficient intensity, falsehoods, whether about election security or other topics, can shape voters’ attitudes toward policies, and lawmakers can cite those attitudes as the basis for major changes.

An Influential PAC Group Is Telling Businesses to Restart Political Donations, Including to GOP Lawmakers Who Voted to Overturn the Election Results
MSN – Grace Dean (Business Insider) | Published: 5/12/2021

Corporations that temporarily stopped political donations after the January 6 Capitol riot are being urged to restart contributions by a trade association that advises companies’ PACs, according to a report. The National Association of Business PACs (NABPAC) has encouraged its members to “move beyond” the siege by restarting donations. The group’s membership includes more than 250 corporate PACs. It was reported that NABPAC hosted a webinar in March with Republican strategist Michael DuHaime, who advised companies on how to restart donations, and how to communicate this with the public, given that there would be “fallout.”

Cheney Booted from Republican Leadership Spot
Politico – Melanie Zanona and Olivia Beavers | Published: 5/12/2021

House Republicans voted quickly to remove Liz Cheney as their third-ranking leader over her repeated criticism of former President Trump, a shakeup that ties the party tighter to Trump and threatens to create a new litmus test in the GOP. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top deputies complained that Cheney’s constant readiness to call out Trump’s lies about the 2020 election was a distraction that prevented the party from unifying around a cohesive message to win back the House next year. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a moderate turned Trump ally, is the only candidate running to replace Cheney.

FARA Filings Spotlight Giuliani’s Foreign Entanglements Amid Probe
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 5/7/2021

Federal investigators executed search warrants as part of a probe into Rudolph Giuliani and whether he may have acted as an unregistered foreign agent while serving as the personal lawyer to former President Trump. The search warrants suggest the investigation is concentrating on his dealings in Ukraine, including whether he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Giuliani has come under scrutiny for “shadow lobbying” for foreign clients but never registering. Anyone who engages in “quasi-political activities” covered by FARA on behalf of a foreign principal could be required to register. The broad range of activities that would trigger this requirement includes more than just direct lobbying.

FEC Quietly Finds Consensus Despite Hush-Money Dispute
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 5/7/2021

The FEC voted to close an investigation into whether former President Trump violated election law by making hush-money payments during the 2016 election. Watchdogs panned the decision, which went against the advice of the FEC’s top lawyer, saying it reaffirms the agency’s inability to enforce the law. Still, the FEC found consensus on key issues at its recent meeting. The agency unanimously approved a series of legislative recommendations, calling on Congress to crack down on deceptive default recurring donations and so-called scam PACs.

House Democrats and White House Reach Deal Over Testimony by Ex-Trump Aide
New York Times – Charlie Savage | Published: 5/11/2021

The Biden administration and House Democrats have reached a tentative deal to allow Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to testify before Congress about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia inquiry. The deal appears likely to avert a definitive court precedent that would draw a clear line in ambiguous areas: the scope and limits of Congress’s constitutional power to compel testimony for its oversight responsibilities, and a president’s constitutional power to keep secret conversations with a White House lawyer.

Rep. Greene Aggressively Confronts Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Causing New York Congresswoman to Raise Security Concerns
MSN – Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 5/12/2021

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene aggressively confronted Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and falsely accused her of supporting “terrorists,” leading Ocasio-Cortez’s office to call on leadership to ensure Congress remains “a safe, civil place for all Members and staff.” Two reporters witnessed Ocasio-Cortez exit the House chamber ahead of Greene, who shouted “Hey Alexandria” twice to get her attention. When Ocasio-Cortez did not stop walking, Greene picked up her pace and began shouting at her and asking why she supports antifa and Black Lives Matter, falsely labeling them “terrorist” groups. Greene also shouted that Ocasio-Cortez was failing to defend her “radical socialist” beliefs by declining to publicly debate her.

Trump Justice Department Secretly Obtained Post Reporters’ Phone Records
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 5/7/2021

The Justice Department under former President Trump secretly seized the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who covered the federal investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The disclosure sets up a new clash between the federal government and news organizations and advocates for press freedom, who regard the seizures of reporters’ records as incursions into constitutionally protected newsgathering activity. Similar actions have occurred only rarely over the past decade. The action is presumably aimed at identifying the reporters’ sources as federal investigators scrutinized whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to sway the election.

White House Lifts Secrecy of Visitor Logs Cloaked by Trump
MSN – Jennifer Epstein (Bloomberg) | Published: 5/7/2021

President Biden’s White House released its first set of records detailing visits by official guests, returning to a practice set by the Obama administration and dismissed by the Trump team. The White House disclosed 400 visits during Biden’s first 12 days in office. While hundreds of visitors might have been to the White House complex on an ordinary pre-pandemic day, the sparse logs from the start of the Biden presidency show just how limited in-person activities have been.

Wide Splits Evident on Voting and Campaign Finance as Senate Panel Takes Up Overhaul
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 5/11/2021

Republicans and Democrats on an evenly divided U.S. Senate committee demonstrated how far apart they are on political spending, voting, campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws as they debated a sweeping 800-page bill. Charges of Democrats trying to grab power and allegations that Republicans in statehouses were seeking to disenfranchise minority voters mixed in with debates over how to mandate financial disclosure for political ads without imposing unconstitutional limits on free speech, and how to make voting easier without opening the door to bad actors who could game the system.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska 15 Years After VECO Scandal, Stevens’ New Oil Job Renews Old Ethics Questions
Alaska Public Media – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 5/11/2021

In 2007, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signed ethics reforms into law, in what she touted as a necessary response to a corruption scandal that ensnared several state lawmakers. Among the lawmakers investigated in that scandal was then-Senate President Ben Stevens. His Senate office was twice searched by the FBI, and two oil industry executives said they had paid him bribes. Stevens always denied wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime. Now, Stevens is now renewing questions about those same ethics laws in his new job as an executive at oil company ConocoPhillips, a position he started three days after leaving one of the most powerful jobs in state government: Chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Arizona Arizona Makes It Easier to Purge Some from Early Voting List
Associated Press News – Jonathan Cooper | Published: 5/11/2021

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation purging infrequent voters from a list of those who automatically get a mail-in ballot each election, ignoring protests from Democrats and business leaders who said the measure would suppress the votes of people of color. The governor acted hours after a tense debate in the state Senate, during which Republicans tried to silence Democrats who said the bill would perpetuate systemic racism. Republicans have only a single-vote edge in the Arizona House and Senate, so legislation there has been tougher to pass than in other states.

Arizona Arizona Republicans Push Back Against Justice Department Concerns, Setting Up Possible Clash over Maricopa County Recount
MSN – Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/6/2021

Arizona officials involved with a Republican-commissioned recount of the November presidential election in the state’s largest county brushed off concerns raised by the U.S. Justice Department, raising the possibility of a clash between state and federal authorities over the audit. Pamela Karlan, who heads the department’s civil rights division, wrote a letter to the president of the Arizona Senate suggesting the recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County by a private contractor may not comply with federal law, which requires that ballots be securely maintained for 22 months following a federal election.

Florida Ana Cruz Toured Tampa with Related CEO, but They Didn’t Talk Rome Yard Business, She Says
MSN – Charlie Frago and Christopher O’Donnell (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 5/11/2021

The month before the Related Group was named as the city’s choice for a lucrative contract to develop a prime property, Mayor Jane Castor’s partner, Ana Cruz, toured Tampa with the firm’s founder. Later, Cruz and Jorge Pérez traveled to the development site. Pérez, head of the Related Group, then got out for a tour organized by Castor’s nephew. Also on that tour was Joe Robinson, whose actions during the bid selection process led to a protest against the city’s preliminary award of the Rome Yard project.

Florida Florida’s DeSantis Signs New Voting Restrictions into Law, Making the State the Latest to Add Hurdles to the Voting Process
MSN – Amy Gardner and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 5/6/2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed broad legislation that imposes new rules on voting and new penalties for those who do not follow them, hailing the measures as necessary to shore up public faith in elections even as critics accused him of trying to make it harder to vote, particularly for people of color. Like similar bills that Republicans are pushing in dozens of state Legislatures, the Florida measure adds hurdles to voting by mail, restricts the use of drop boxes, and prohibits any actions that could influence those standing in line to vote.

Georgia Gov. Kemp Signs Bill Allowing More Money to Flow into Georgia Politics
Rome News-Tribune – Staff | Published: 5/10/2021

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law allowing state leaders to set up committees that could raise money during General Assembly sessions while lobbyists are trying to get legislation passed. Senate Bill 221 creates eight so-called leadership committees” that would collect campaign donations ahead of statewide and legislative elections. While those committees would have to disclose the names of donors, they would not be subject to the contribution limits that apply to individual candidates.

Idaho Idaho Intern Reports Rape, Says Lawmakers ‘Destroyed Me’
Associated Press News – Rebecca Boone | Published: 5/4/2021

The harassment began soon after a report by a 19-year-old intern, who alleged an Idaho lawmaker raped her, became public. One state representative sought a copy of the police report and made inquiries into how the young woman could be referred for criminal charges for reporting the alleged rape. Another shared links to a far-right blog post that included the intern’s name, photo, and personal details about her life with thousands of people in a newsletter and on social media. And members of a anti-government activist group tried to follow and harass the young woman after she was called to testify in a public hearing.

Illinois Even in Chicago’s Crowded History of FBI Cooperators, Daniel Solis’ Deal Stands Out
Yahoo News – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/7/2021

Former Ald. Daniel Solis apparently has cut a deal with prosecutors that many in Chicago’s legal community say is unprecedented for an elected official, especially one allegedly caught betraying the public trust. In exchange for going undercover and helping prosecute Ald. Edward Burke, Solis was offered what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement. The deal means he will not serve jail time for taking campaign cash in exchange for official action and could keep his nearly $100,000 annual city pension.

Kansas Wichita City Council Passes Ethics Policy, Promises Campaign Finance Reform
MSN – Chance Swaim (Wichita Eagle) | Published: 5/11/2021

A new ethics law in Wichita sets gift limits for elected and appointed officials for the first time. The law creates an Ethics Advisory Board to investigate and rule on complaints. City officials could be censured or fined up to $1,000 for serious violations. Lesser offenses would require an official to undergo ethics training. It also offers whistleblower protection to city employees who report violations.

Maine Maine Money-in-Politics Overhaul Targets Direct Donations from Businesses
Bangor Daily News – Jessica Piper | Published: 5/12/2021

A measure moving through the Maine Legislature to restrict business contributions to legislative campaigns would weaken one path to influence for lawmakers, though businesses and nonprofits would still have ways to affect races. The bill would ban direct contributions from businesses and other corporations to candidates. It would also take aim at donations to PACs controlled by legislators that are not subject to the same limits as candidate campaigns. Those so-called leadership PACs account for a relatively small portion of the money in politics every year, but they are notable because they are affiliated with prominent lawmakers.

Massachusetts Petitioners Ask US Supreme Court to Declare Gov. Baker’s COVID Restrictions a Violation of the Constitution – Matt Murphy (State House News Service) | Published: 5/10/2021

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is close to lifting remaining COVID-19 restrictions, but critics who believe he overstepped his authority are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Baker’s actions to date a violation of the Constitution. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully attempted to overturn many of his executive orders that put business and other gathering restrictions in place but lost that case in in the state’s highest court. While it is unlikely the justices would act in time to disrupt Baker’s reopening plans, the lawyers and advocates involved say the case still has value in making sure future governors don’t similarly use public health to wield expansive executive authority.

Michigan Gov. Whitmer: Flight to visit father was not ‘a gift’
Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 5/12/2021

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her flight to visit her father was not paid for by taxpayer dollars and was not “a gift,” but she declined to provide additional information about how the trip was funded. Her comments came at a press conference about two months after she traveled out of state to visit her father, who lives in Florida and her office says is battling a chronic illness. For the trip, Whitmer took a private plane that’s usually shared by three of Michigan’s most prominent political donors.

Michigan Michigan House-Passed Bill Would Spell Out Conflict of Interest Policy for Lawmakers – Lauren Gibbons | Published: 5/6/2021

Michigan lawmakers would be explicitly barred from voting on issues they have a personal interest in under legislation that passed the House with bipartisan support. House Bill 4001 would prohibit state lawmakers from voting on bills or other measures that could personally benefit them, their families, or any entities in which they have a stake. Currently, conflict-of-interest policies are in place through state law and legislative rules, but there are few mechanisms to regulate or enforce violations.

New Jersey Ex-Hopatcong Mayor Fined Maximum Possible by State Ethics Panel
New Jersey Herald – Eric Obenauer | Published: 5/10/2021

A state ethics panel fined former Hopatcong Mayor Cliff Lundin $22,500 for using government vehicles for personal business and government computers to view and store pornography during the time he headed the agency overseeing New Jersey’s soil control regulations. The state also accused Lundin of using his position to grant friends a waiver from the regulations he was responsible for enforcing and running a private law practice on state time.

New York Federal Judge Denies NRA Attempt to Declare Bankruptcy in Win for New York State Attorney General
MSN – Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2021

A federal judge denied an effort by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to file for bankruptcy protection, ruling the gun rights group filed the case in a bad-faith attempt to fend off a lawsuit by the New York attorney general. The decision was a victory for Attorney General Letitia James, who filed a far-reaching civil suit against the group accusing top officials of fraud and self-dealing. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and his legal team contended the lawsuit was a political act intended to destroy the organization.

Ohio ‘A Terrible Idea’: Multitasking state senator drives while videoconferencing
MSN – Michael Laris (Washington Post) | Published: 5/6/2021

Like many pandemic-era workers, Ohio Sen. Andrew Brenner found himself relying on videoconferencing to make his busy schedule work. The problem for Brenner was he did so while driving, while his government meeting was being recorded, and while his legislative colleagues were pressing to tighten rules on using smartphones behind the wheel. That combination opened the Republican to online ridicule and swipes from political opponents as local and national media turned his drive into a parable on driver safety and political irony.

Ohio Ohio Is No.1 State When It Comes to Public Corruption, Experts Say
USA Today – Laura Bischoff (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 5/11/2021

The public corruption case in Ohio involving $61 million in “dark money” spent to influence legislation is the biggest open investigation in any statehouse in America. Watchdogs said the House Bill 6 case, an open investigation against another previous House speaker, and several city-level cases, makes Ohio the leader among states for corruption. “The whole thing is amazing in scope …,” said Todd Wickerham, former FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Cincinnati office. The House Bill 6 case may be charting new ground in corruption prosecutions by alleging “dark money” was used as bribe money.

Ohio Special Prosecutor Seeks Suspension of Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young
MSN – Sharon Coolidge (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 5/12/2021

Special prosecutor Patrick Hanley said he is seeking to suspend Wendell Young from the Cincinnati City Council after Young was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with records. There are no provisions in the city charter that address what should happen if an elected official is charged with a crime. But under state rules. either the state attorney general or prosecutor can move to suspend an elected official who has been charged with a crime.

Oregon Audit: Oregon should boost ethics officials; independence, anti-corruption measures
MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/5/2021

An audit of the structure of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) and the state laws that govern its work found OGEC operations are generally aligned with other states and with leading practices. But the audit identified areas where the commission could be strengthened and given more independence. Auditors noted Oregon “is in the minority of states lacking an ethics organization that oversees campaign finance.” In general, they reported Oregon’s laws against public officials’ misuse of their offices, acceptance of expensive gifts, and conflicts-of-interest are in line with national standards.

Oregon Portland Business Alliance Contests 23 of 25 Lobbying Violations Found by City Auditor
Portland Oregonian – Shane Dixon Cavanaugh | Published: 5/10/2021

The city auditor’s office found the Portland Business Alliance failed to disclose at least 25 times it had contacted city officials in 2020 to request access, funding, or action, primarily by email. The alliance contends 23 of the unreported emails and other interactions with officials did not need to be reported because they did not meet the city’s definition of lobbying. The business alliance’s president, Andrew Hoan, said his group would accept the auditor’s recommendation that its staff participate in additional lobbying training.

Oregon Remote Testimony Could Be Here to Stay at the Oregon Capitol
MSN – Chris Lehman (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/11/2021

So far this session, with committee hearings held entirely on virtual platforms, people have signed up to address legislative committees more than 14,000 times in Oregon. That is already well over the number who sought to testify in person in 2019, with more than six weeks remaining in this year’s session. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require both the state Legislature and local governments to offer remote testimony as an option, even when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.

South Carolina Columbia Mayor Benjamin Registered as Lobbyist for SC’s Largest Medical Provider Prisma
Charleston Post and Courier – Steven Fastenau | Published: 5/11/2021

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is not seeking reelection, has become a registered lobbyist for South Carolina’s largest hospital system. Benjamin filed as a lobbyist for Prisma Health, which has large operations in Columbia and is among the area’s biggest employers. South Carolina law prohibits state lawmakers and statewide elected officials and department heads appointed by the governor from lobbying while in office and for a year after leaving their positions, but no such provision exists for local elected officials.

Tennessee FBI Investigation at Tennessee Statehouse Continued Through Legislative Session
Yahoo News – Andy Sher (Chattanooga Times Free Press) | Published: 5/8/2021

Federal officials have been publicly silent in the four months following FBI raids on three sitting Tennessee House members, two of them political consultants performing work for several GOP colleagues. But federal agents have not been idle since their searches of the homes and legislative offices of Rep. Robin Smith and former Speaker Glen Casada, plus a freshman representative and a former top House staffer. FBI agents for months have visited the Cordell Hull State Office Building to interview lawmakers for whom Smith and Casada, both political consultants, did work in 2020. Smith and Casada provided campaign services, state government-funded constituent mail communications, and surveys to colleagues.

Texas Texas House Approves Bill Mandating Sexual Harassment Training for Lobbyists and a Way to Report Complaints, with 2 No Votes
MSN – Madlin Mekelburg (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 5/11/2021

A bill to require sexual harassment training for lobbyists at the Texas Capitol passed easily in the House. The bill would prohibit sexual harassment by lobbyists and allow people who work around the Capitol to file complaints against people for violations. It would also require lobbyists to complete sexual harassment training as part of their licensing process.

Texas Top Consultant for Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Charged with Theft Over Hemp Licenses
MSN – Tony Plohetski (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 5/7/2021

Authorities charged one of the state’s most influential lobbyists and a top political consultant to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller with theft after investigators said he stole money from possible investors in the state’s hemp industry. According to an affidavit, the case against Smith has been ongoing for nearly two years and involves what alleged victims say was his promised assistance in securing licenses from Miller’s office to produce hemp. Lawmakers in 2019 legalized hemp with a new state-regulated program.

Texas Unwanted Touching, Late-Night Texts: Women at Texas Capitol describe culture of harassment
USA Today – Nicole Cobler, Madlin Mekelburg, and John Moritz (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 5/3/2021

An investigation into an allegation that a lobbyist slipped a drug into the drink of a legislative staffer thrust workplace harassment at the Texas Capitol into the daylight, with legislative leaders working to improve avenues for women to report mistreatment and legislation filed to require sexual misconduct training for lobbyists. Multiple women described a work environment in which they are objectified and made to feel uncomfortable in their daily interactions with male counterparts. Women said they fear career-ending repercussions if they complain, instead turning to a whisper network to warn one another of the predators to avoid.

Virginia Youngkin Wins Virginia GOP Nomination for Governor
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/10/2021

Businessperson Glenn Youngkin won the Republican nomination for governor in Virginia, emerging from a crowded field to claim the GOP mantle for one of the most closely watched races of 2021. November’s general election will be perhaps the most competitive statewide race of the year. Though Virginia voted for now-President Joe Biden, the state has often veered away from the party that occupies the White House in gubernatorial races.

Washington Seattle Ethics Panel Requires Kshama Sawant to Pay $3,516 for Violating Law
Seattle Times – Nina Shapiro | Published: 5/10/2021

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commissioner ratified a settlement agreement with Councilperson Kshama Sawant in which she admitted improperly using city money and other resources to support a proposed ballot measure. The vote means Sawant must pay the city $3,516, twice the amount she spent to promote an earnings tax on big businesses like Amazon. The decision comes as a recall campaign is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative seeking Sawant’s ouster.

Washington Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan Had Phone Set to Keep Texts Only 30 Days, Her Office Says
Seattle Times – Lewis Kamb and Daniel Beekman | Published: 5/12/2021

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose text messages are missing for a 10-month period that includes the peak of last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, at some point had an iPhone set to automatically delete texts older than 30 days. The standard text-retention options on iPhones are generally inadequate for preserving public records of substance under state law, and elected officials should know that, according an open-government expert. “There’s nothing in state law that says you can automatically delete records after 30 days,” said Toby Nixon, president emeritus of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

West Virginia Audit: Association of smaller W.Va. colleges and universities received $132,000 in illegal payments
West Virginia Public Broadcasting – David Misitch | Published: 5/10/2021

Some regional colleges and universities made $132,000 in illegal payments to an association that was created to lobby on their behalf, according to an audit. In 2013, the West Virginia Association of Regional Colleges and Universities was created as a 501(c)6 organization and registered with the West Virginia secretary of state’s office. The organization was comprised of college and university presidents, who are state employees. The group was dissolved in 2015. Despite the dissolution, the audit found the schools made $132,000 in unauthorized payments to the association. At least $105,000 of those payments went toward lobbying.

Wyoming Federal Elections Commission Fines Wyo GOP $52,000
WyoFile,com – Nick Reynolds | Published: 5/10/2021

The FEC fined the Wyoming Republican Party $52,000 for a campaign finance violation stemming from former President Trump’s 2016 campaign. State GOP Chairperson Matt Micheli said the violation occurred during the runup to the election. A miscommunication between the Wyoming GOP’s accountant and the Trump campaign, Micheli said, resulted in the party failing to report a significant monetary transfer between the campaign and the party until after the election.

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