News You Can Use Digest - May 17, 2024 - State and Federal Communications

May 17, 2024  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 17, 2024


A White-Collar Indictment Shatters a Congressman’s Blue-Collar Image

DNyuz – Kenneth Vogel and Kitty Bennett (New York Times) | Published: 5/13/2024

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has often reminisced about growing up in Laredo, Texas, where his parents, one-time migrant workers, raised him and his seven siblings to value hard work and beware the dangers of debt. He and his wife have now been criminally charged for accepting at least $598,000 over from a Mexican bank and an oil company owned by the Azerbaijani government. Members of Congress are often invited to exclusive clubs and functions by donors, wealthy colleagues, and lobbyists. The lure can be harder to resist for the relatively small group of politicians from humble backgrounds who sometimes struggle to make ends meet.

Democrats Aim for a Breakthrough for Black Women in the Senate

DNyuz – Jonathan Weisman (New York Times) | Published: 5/16/2024

The national Democratic Party has faced criticism that it has declined to back Black women to the hilt, either in primaries or general elections, when they have run for statewide offices. Out of 75 Black women who have run or are running for the U.S Senate since 2010, 10 have secured major-party nominations. No Black woman has ever been elected governor, and out of the 28 who have run for the position since 2010, only four have become major-party nominees.

‘Mom’ Legislators See Their Numbers, Influence Grow but Barriers to Elected Office Remain

Louisiana Illuminator – States Newsroom | Published: 5/12/2024

The number of women serving in state Legislatures has more than quintupled since 1971, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Nearly 33 percent of the 7,386 state legislative seats are occupied by 2,432 women, the center reported. The Vote Mama Foundation estimates 23 percent of lawmakers are mothers. Still, moms are struggling to get elected and remain in office. Beyond childcare, there are myriad impediments.

House Ethics Panel Probing Troy Nehls’s Campaign Rent Payments

MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 5/10/2024

The House Committee on Ethics announced it would further probe allegations that U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls may have misused campaign funds for personal purposes. Despite Nehls’ campaign committee listing its headquarters as “Freedom Hall,” in Richmond, Texas, it made no rent payments to that location, which was formerly a bar and later became an Islamic center. Instead, the Office of Congressional Ethics found the campaign made more than $25,000 in rent payments to an entity known as Liberty 1776 that is owned and operated by Nehls.

Biden and Trump Agree to CNN Debate in June, ABC Faceoff in September

MSN – Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/15/2024

President Biden and Donald Trump agreed to a June 27 debate on CNN and a September 10 debate broadcast by ABC News, hours after Biden announced he would bypass the decades-old tradition of three fall meetings organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The first debate will be held after the expected conclusion of Trump’s New York trial. The CNN debate will be conducted without a live audience and is open to any presidential candidate who consistently polls above 15 percent in approved public surveys and is on enough state ballots to win a majority of electoral college votes.

Steve Bannon’s Bid to Undo Jan. 6 Contempt Conviction Fails

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/10/2024

Former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon was rightfully convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify in front of the committee that investigated the Capitol attack, an appellate court ruled. The court did not immediately order Bannon to begin serving his four-month prison sentence; instead, he has seven days to ask for reconsideration at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Bannon maintains he was following legal advice in refusing to cooperate with the committee.

Sen. Bob Menendez’s Trial, Where Gold Bars May Shine, Begins Monday

MSN – Salvador Rizzo (Washington Post) | Published: 5/12/2024

Sen. Bob Menendez is on for the second time in a decade on federal charges he used his position and influence to benefit a trio of businesspeople who were plying him with luxury gifts. Menendez’s previous corruption case featured similar bribery allegations but ended in 2017 with a deadlocked jury. This time, experts say the once-powerful chair of the Foreign Relations Committee faces a tougher task: convincing jurors he legally obtained the gold bars, cash, convertible, and other items seized from his home in 2022.

Justice Clarence Thomas Calls Criticism of Him ‘Nastiness’ and Lies’

MSN – Justin Jouvenal, Tobi Raji, and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/10/2024

After facing harsh questions about his judicial decisions and acceptance of lavish gifts from a billionaire, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pushed back at his critics, saying he and his wife, Virginia Thomas, have endured “nastiness” and “lies.”  Thomas’s remarks were markedly different in tone from an earlier public appearance by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who said consistency, transparency, and mutual respect are the keys to improving public trust in the judiciary.

Federal Prosecutors Reissue Criminal Charges Against Ex-Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 5/9/2024

Federal prosecutors charged former U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in the District of Columbia for allegedly lying to investigators in connection with a campaign finance probe of a foreign billionaire’s political contributions. Fortenberry was convicted of the same charges in Los Angeles in 2022, but an appeals court reversed the conviction, determining the case should have been brought in either the then-lawmaker’s Nebraska district or in Washington.

Felons or Dupes? Treatment of Trump’s Fake Electors Has Varied Wildly by State

Yahoo News – Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 5/11/2024

Eighty-four Republicans in seven states falsely claimed to be Donald Trump’s presidential electors in December 2020. Now, dozens of them are facing criminal charges that could land them in prison for years. Dozens of others have not been charged at all. Even though the fake electors all participated in the same scheme, some have been charged as dangerous criminals while others have been treated as mere dupes. These disparities depend almost entirely on where they live.

House Ethics Panel Subpoenas DOJ for Gaetz Records

Yahoo News – Jordain Carney (Politico) | Published: 5/16/2024

The House Committee on Ethics subpoenaed the Justice Department for information tied to the panel’s ongoing investigation into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a person familiar with the congressional investigation said. House investigators demanded documents and other records to assist with their ongoing ethics investigation into allegations that Gaetz had sexual contact with a minor. The Justice Department closed its investigation of Gaetz without filing charges.

From the States and Municipalities

Europe – New EU Ethics Body Adopted – but Will Have No Investigative Powers

EUobserver – Nikolaj Nielsen | Published: 5/16/2024

A new European Union (EU) ethics body was formed to curtail scandals and keep the EU institutions free from corruption. But years of debate and opposition by some have soured its initial ambitions, leaving the body without any investigative powers. The latest iteration will not cover the European Council or the activities and officials of the member state holding the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.

Arizona – Ethics Panel Mulls GOP Complaint That Dems Committed ‘Insurrection’ by Protesting on the Floor

Arizona Mirror – Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Published: 5/15/2024

During a contentious ethics committee hearing, Republican lawmakers accused two Democrats who protested on the floor of the Arizona House after their GOP colleagues avoided repealing a century old abortion law of inciting a riot and making others fear for their safety. Committee Chairperson Joseph Chaplik dismissed arguments that the Democratic lawmakers were simply reacting passionately, saying lawmakers are passionate about many proposals and the chamber’s rules exist to bar the kind of “chaos” that occurred.

California – Ethics Reform Measure Will Go to L.A. Voters. Critics Say It’s Watered Down

MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/15/2024

Los Angeles voters in November will weigh in on a ballot measure that would strengthen the city’s ethics oversight after a string of scandals at City Hall. Watchdog groups were disappointed, saying the measure does not go far enough after the city council watered down a proposal that had included more sweeping changes, such as giving the volunteer Ethics Commission unilateral power to put items on the ballot.

California – California Lawmakers Keep Killing Bills by Not Voting on Them. Do the Rules Need to Change?

MSN – Ryan Sabalow (CalMatters) | Published: 5/9/2024

Not voting is a common practice for California legislators. Last year, at least 15 bills died due to lack of votes instead of lawmakers voting “no” to kill them. So far this year, at least 12 bills have died because lawmakers declined to vote. Insiders say it is a way for lawmakers to be polite to colleagues and perhaps avoid a “no” vote on their own legislation. But critics say it is also a way for lawmakers to dodge responsibility for their decisions.

Colorado – Why Pueblo’s Mayor Allowed a Lobbyist to Write an Opinion for Her (and May Do So Again)

Pueblo Chieftan – Anna Lynn Winfrey | Published: 5/16/2024

Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham submitted similar opinion pieces to two Colorado newspapers but she did not write them herself. A lobbyist working for Evraz, the company that owns Pueblo’s steel mill and is one of the city’s largest employers, penned the op-ed as part of an advocacy push to defeat some bills introduced. at the state Legislature that business leaders said could hurt Pueblo.

Florida – DeSantis Clears Some Ethics Cases After 2 Years, but Others Still Languish

MSN – Skyler Swisher (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 5/10/2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis cleared part of a backlog of ethics orders punishing the misdeeds of Florida politicians that politicians piled up over two years of inaction, but some high-profile cases are still languishing. DeSantis quietly signed 17 orders in October and November imposing fines and penalties for violations of the state’s ethics code, shortly after an Orlando Sentinel report highlighted dozens of cases awaiting his signature. The orders were only recently posted on the governor’s website.

Hawaii – New Maui Ethics Board Member Instructed Not to Participate Due to Legal Dispute

Honolulu Civil Beat – Brittany Lyte | Published: 5/8/2024

Weakened by numerous vacancies and a shortage of resources to prosecute ethics violations, Maui County’s short-handed Board of Ethics could soon get a badly needed boost from new membership. But the recent appointment of Chivo Ching-Johnson is effectively on hold pending the resolution of a legal dispute over the process by which the county selected nominees to serve on a number of boards and commissions.

Idaho – ‘We Are Paying Attention’: Idaho Secretary of State sees influx of campaign finance complaints

Idaho Capital Sun – Mia Maldonado | Published: 5/16/2024

Idaho legislative candidates have more than doubled the amount of money raised toward their campaigns than the 2022 election. With more money coming into campaigns this year, more than 60 campaign finance complaints have been filed with his office, Secretary of State Phil McGrane said. “It’s important for the public to know that we are paying attention and enforcing these rules,” he said.

Idaho – Idaho State Police Warned Media Outlet That Publishing Its Story Might Violate Idaho Law

Yahoo News – Daniel Walters (InvestigativeWest) | Published: 5/14/2024

InvestigateWest published a story about a secret recording of a nearly two-hour conversation between Idaho Rep. Heather Scott and lobbyist Maria Nate. A copy of the recording had been provided to the news outlet by a third party. InvestigateWest later got a call from Idaho State Police Detective Sean Walker, who said he believed the recording may have been made illegally. Then, he read a state law suggesting if InvestigateWest wrote about the contents of a recording it knew had been illegally made, it could violate Idaho’s communications security laws, a crime punishable by up to five years in state prison.

Illinois – Illinois Democrats’ Law Changing the Choosing of Legislative Candidates Faces GOP Opposition

MSN – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 5/8/2024

Illinois Democrats changed the way candidates for the General Assembly get on the ballot. Republicans are complaining they changed the rules mid-game. The Legislature’s majority party speedily made the change by introducing the proposal, shepherding it through votes of approval by the House and Senate, and securing the governor’s signature within 30 hours. The law, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker hailed as an ethics update, eliminates the drafting of legislative candidates by local political parties without putting them through primary elections.

Illinois – Chicago Ethics Board Wants Fines and Suspensions for Lobbyists Who Give Money to Mayoral Candidates

WBEZ – Tessa Weinberg | Published: 5/14/2024

The Chicago Board of Ethics wants a law on the books that allows it to fine and even temporarily suspend lobbyists if they contribute to a mayor’s campaign in violation of a decade-old ethics rule. The board recommended that the city council update the ethics ordinance to give enforcement teeth to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 executive order that bars lobbyists from donating to a mayor’s political committees.

Illinois – ‘We’re on the Friends and Family Plan Now’: New details emerge in alleged AT&T scheme to bribe House speaker

Yahoo News – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/13/2024

Former AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza will stand trial on charges he approved a scheme to funnel payments to an associate of then-House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for the speaker’s help passing legislation important to the company. A recent court filing alleged for the first time that Madigan was directly involved in legislation that allowed companies such as AT&T to put up micro-towers on light poles and elsewhere in public rights-of-way. Madigan helped to advance the bill and helped defeat an amendment to the legislation that would have been harmful to AT&T’s interests, according to prosecutors.

Kansas – ‘I Didn’t Say It Was Valid’: Johnson County sheriff admits he didn’t have signed warrant

Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 5/9/2024

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden acknowledged no judge signed off on seizing old ballots in his long-running elections investigation after he falsely said he had a “search warrant in hand.” The admission came after Hayden, a Republican in a competitive race for reelection, in April accused county Election Commissioner Fred Sherman and other officials of rushing to destroy old ballots from several past elections, suggesting they were attempting to eliminate evidence just as the sheriff was on the verge of obtaining a search warrant for them.

Louisiana – Gov. Jeff Landry, in Dispute with State Ethics Board, Might Gain More Control Over Its Members

Louisiana Illuminator – Julie O’Donoghue | Published: 5/15/2024

Gov. Jeff Landry has yet to resolve a months-long dispute with the Louisiana Board of Ethics for failing to disclose private flights he took to Hawaii on a campaign donor’s plane.  Now, state lawmakers may give Landry more control over the board that seeks to discipline him. Senate Bill 497 would give the governor direct control over who fills the majority of the ethics board seats. It would go into effect August 1.

Louisiana – Supreme Court Restores Louisiana Voting Map with Majority-Black District

MSN – Patrick Marley, Justin Jouvenal, and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/15/2024

The U.S. Supreme Court restored a congressional voting map in Louisiana that includes an additional majority-Black district, handing a victory to Democrats less than six months before the November election.  The order was in response to emergency appeals filed after a federal three-judge panel in the state threw out the recently redrawn map, ruling it was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

Michigan – Michigan Lawyer Seeks Ruling on Lobbyist-Gifted Tickets After News Investigation

Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 5/15/2024

Michigan law bars registered lobbyists from providing legislators with gifts valued at more than $76, but The Detroit News reported lobbyists have found ways around the prohibition. One of their main strategies has been securing tickets to events for lawmakers and then asking the lawmakers, through private letters later, to reimburse the price of the tickets over $76. Bob LaBrant, the former general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, asked Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to rule on whether the system is legal.

Missouri – Missouri Ethics Agency Clears Some Officials to Spend Taxpayer Money on Election Campaigns

Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 5/14/2024

The Missouri Ethics Commission gave tacit approval for some public officials to spend taxpayer dollars on election campaigns, a decision spurring fears of a new “wild west” in election spending. For decades, the state has prohibited the direct use of public funds to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate. But following a 2021 change in the law, the ethics panel is now interpreting the ban in a way that excludes fire districts, hospital districts, water districts, and other special districts that comprise some of the smallest units of government.

Montana – Knudsen Calls Laws ‘Ridiculous’ and Says He Got Opponent to Run So He Could Raise More Money

Daily Montanan – Darrell Ehrlick | Published: 5/14/2024

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said he had put a friend and fellow Republican up to running against him in his bid for re-election to raise more money and he believes state law is “ridiculous,” according to a recording that captured part of his remarks. Those remarks may have given audience members more than information about the race for the top law enforcement officer in the state. They may have provided the basis for several campaign violations.

New York – Appellate Court Sides with Cuomo, Ruling Ethics Panel Is Unconstitutional

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 5/9/2024

The Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government was created unconstitutionally, an appeals court said in a ruling in favor of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He is fighting an attempt by the agency to force him to forfeit $5 million he got for writing a book about his administration’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo’s attorneys argued since most of the appointees to the commission were nominated by the Legislature, comptroller, and attorney general, it violates the separation of powers doctrine.

North Dakota – Judge Orders Community Service, Fine for North Dakota Lawmaker Tied to Building Controversy

MSN – Jack Dura (Associated Press) | Published: 5/9/2024

North Dakota Rep. Jason Dockter was ordered to serve 250 hours of community service and pay a $2,500 fine after he was convicted of a misdemeanor in connection with a state-leased building he has an ownership stake in. Dockter is a co-owner of companies that own the building leased by the late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Dockter has denied any wrongdoing in the lease arrangement. The building drew scrutiny when Stenehjem’s successor disclosed a construction cost overrun of over $1 million incurred under Stenehjem.

Ohio – Did Jury in P.G. Sittenfeld Case Get It Wrong? Ex-Councilman Hopes Appeals Court Frees Him from Prison

WCPO – Paula Christian | Published: 5/9/2024

Attorneys for former Cincinnati City Councilperson P.G. Sittenfeld asked a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out his public corruption. He is serving a 16-month sentence for bribery and attempted extortion. Sittenfeld has maintained he did nothing illegal by accepting $20,000 in campaign donations from undercover FBI agents who were posing as developers and championing their project to redevelop a blighted property into a boutique hotel because he was a pro-development politician.

Oregon – No Criminal Charges for OLCC Managers Who Set Aside Rare Bourbon for Themselves, State Says

MSN – Noelle Crombie (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/13/2024

The state Department of Justice said it would not pursue criminal charges against the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) director and other managers who used their positions to access prized Kentucky bourbon. The Justice Department’s investigators were not able to locate anyone who could identify specific OLCC employees who had completed particular purchases. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Udland emphasized the agency limited its review to possible crimes and did not “separately address whether the conduct of any OLCC employee violated Oregon’s civil ethics laws.”

Pennsylvania – Ousted Head of Philly Health Care Workers’ Union Charged with Stealing to Illegally Support Democratic Campaigns

MSN – Jeremy Roebuck (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 5/14/2024

Prosecutors say Chris Woods, former head of District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees, illegally supported candidates in Philadelphia’s 2019 Democratic primary with union funds. Woods stole more than $150,000 from his members to use in the election. He disguised the missing money as payments to renovate the bar in his union’s headquarters. Instead, grand jurors found, the funds went to pay a political consultant, who handled get-out-the-vote efforts for several candidates that Woods and his union endorsed.

Pennsylvania – Super Bowl Tickets, Luxury Resort Stay Among Perks Pa. Lawmakers Accepted in 2023

Yahoo News – Stephen Caruso and Angela Couloumbis (Spotlight PA) | Published: 5/13/2024

Pennsylvania’s gift law is one of the loosest in the country. Public officials can accept gifts of any size, as long as they report those that meet a certain threshold. The law does bar lawmakers from taking gifts if doing so will influence their votes and positions. Under both chambers’ ethics rules, lawmakers are also barred from accepting cash gifts from a lobbyist or anyone else seeking a specific legislative outcome. But watchdogs have lamented that there are few ways to enforce these rules.

Vermont – Vermont Legislature Passes Bill to Create Uniform Ethical Standards in Local Government – Shaun Robinson | Published: 5/10/2024

Vermont lawmakers passed a bill that would create new uniform ethical standards for many local government officials, a change proponents said is long overdue. It would establish a “municipal code of ethics” that is similar to one for state officials that went into effect two years ago. The new code would set baseline standards for cities, towns, and villages to adopt around conflicts-of-interest, preferential treatment, gifts, and other potential issues.

Washington – Why One Man Filed 800 Campaign Finance Complaints Against WA Candidates

Centralia Daily Chronicle – Jim Brunner (Seattle Times) | Published: 5/9/2024

Conner Edwards has filed more than 800 complaints with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) against candidates and political committees since late last year. Despite the state’s image as a leader in campaign finance transparency, he says the PDC is failing to crack down when campaigns do not file important reports detailing who is giving them money and how it is spent. PDC staff defended its work and said Edwards is making a mountainous caseload for the agency over a relative molehill of offenses by mostly small-dollar campaigns.

Washington – Ethics Commission Looks into Possible Conflict of Interest on Seattle City Council Vote

KNKX – Lilly Ana Fowler | Published: 5/14/2024

The Seattle City Council will vote on legislation that would roll back a law that mandates delivery drivers for DoorDash and other app companies make the equivalent of the city’s minimum wage. The Ethics and Elections Commission is now looking into whether city council President Sara Nelson has a conflict-of-interest. Nelson recently sold Fremont Brewing to Seattle Hospitality Group, one of the state’s largest hospitality companies.

West Virginia – Incumbent Tops Primary Candidate Who Filmed Himself in the Capitol on Jan. 6

MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 5/14/2024

U.S. Rep. Carol Miller won the Republican primary in West Virginia’s First Congressional District, defeating Derrick Evans, a former state lawmaker who served three months in prison after pleading guilty to a felony for participating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Miller voted against certifying election results from some states on January 6, 2021.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s Top Court Signals It Will Reinstate Ballot Drop Boxes

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 5/13/2024

Liberals who control the Wisconsin Supreme Court signaled they were prepared to overturn a two-year-old decision that banned absentee ballot drop boxes and allow them for the 2024 election. The justices’ comments during oral arguments offered the latest sign the liberal majority is prepared to change policies that conservatives put in place during their 15 years controlling the court in one of the country’s most important swing states.

Continue Reading

State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting

Sort by Month