News You Can Use Digest - May 19, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

May 19, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 19, 2023


Durham Finds Fault with F.B.I. Over Russia Inquiry

DNyuz – Charlie Savage, Glenn Thrush, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 5/15/2023

John Durham, the Trump-era special counsel who has pursued a politically fraught investigation into the Russia inquiry, accused the FBI of having “discounted or willfully ignored material information” that countered the narrative of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. Durham’s final report revealed little substantial new information about the inquiry, known as Crossfire Hurricane, and it failed to produce the kinds of revelations accusing the bureau of politically motivated misconduct that Trump and his allies suggested Durham would uncover.

Former Hawaii Executives Plead Guilty to Sending Illegal Donations to US Sen. Susan Collins

Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 5/15/2023

Clifford Chen and Lawrence Lum Kee. two former executives of a Hawaii-based defense contractor, recently pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins during her 2020 bid for reelection. Chen and Lum Kee used company funds to donate large sums of money to Collins’ reelection, including through a shell company meant to mask their identity when sending $150,000 to a pro-Collins super PAC. They also recruited family members to donate thousands of dollars directly to Collins’ campaign.

How Kyrsten Sinema Uses Campaign Cash for Her Marathon Habit

MSN – Sam Brodey (Daily Beast) | Published: 5/14/2023

When U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an avid marathoner and triathlete, ran the Boston Marathon last year, it was a proud moment she wanted to publicize. “It’s been a long road to get here,: Sinema tweeted, along with photos of her running and celebrating the finish. Far less publicized, however, was another aspect to Sinema’s long-awaited journey to Boston: she appears to have turned it into a fundraising junket, allowing her campaign to cover the thousands of dollars in expenses she would have incurred herself by traveling to the race.

Supreme Court to Review House Oversight Lawsuit from 2017

MSN – Michael Macagnone and Ryan Tarinelli (Roll Call) | Published: 5/15/2023

The Supreme Court will decide whether lawmakers can turn to the courts when the federal government denies them documents, as members of an oversight committee did when they sought information about the former Trump International Hotel in Washington. The case centers on a law that gives any seven members of what was then called the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the right to request information from the federal government, which is separate from the typical authority of the panel’s majority to do so. A decision could reshape the ability of the minority party in Congress to oversee the federal government.

CNN Leadership Under Fire After ‘Disastrous’ Trump Town Hall

MSN – Paul Farhi and Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023

CNN’s prime-time broadcast of a raucous town hall with Donald Trump propelled a tsunami of criticism from inside and outside the network and renewed questions about how the news media will handle the challenge of covering the serial falsehoods of the Republican Party’s leading candidate going into the 2024 election. The main impact may be the damage done to the reputation of the network. It also raised questions about the future prospects of chief executive Chris Licht, who is charged with striking a more neutral tone at a cable channel that exploded with impassioned commentary during the Trump years.

George Santos Confesses to Theft in Brazil to Avoid Prosecution

MSN – Terrence McCoy, Marina Dias, and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023

Rep. George Santos signed a deal with Brazilian prosecutors in which he confessed to theft and agreed to pay restitution and fines if prosecutors agree to drop the criminal case against him, bringing a likely resolution in a case that has tailed the embattled politician for more than a decade.  Santos was given 30 days to pay around $2,000 in fines and $2,800 to the victim. The deal means Santos will not have to fight criminal prosecution in two countries.

Did Jan. 6 Defendants Act ‘Corruptly’? An Appeals Court Weighs the Question.

MSN – Tom Jackman and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023

When analyzing the prosecutions of rioters at the U.S. Capitol, some defense lawyers have zeroed in on a key word in the law used to charge many defendants: “corruptly.” The law requires proof that the defendants acted corruptly in obstructing the electoral vote certification. But the exact definition of what it means to be corrupt was at question as judges for an appeals court weighing whether a law used to secure felony convictions against more than 100 participants in the attack is being appropriately applied.

How to Raise $89 Million in Small Donations – and Make It Disappear

Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold and Tiff Fehr (New York Times) | Published: 5/16/2023

A group of five linked nonprofits have exploited thousands of donors in ways that have been hidden until now by a blizzard of filings, lax oversight, and a blind spot in the campaign finance system. Since 2014, the groups have pulled in $89 million from small-dollar donors who were pitched on building political support for police officers, veterans, and firefighters. But just one percent of the money they raised was used to help candidates via donations, ads, or targeted get-out-the-vote messages, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Ford Government Defeats Attempt to Get Tough on Gift-Giving After Controversial Party and Wedding

Toronto Star – Bob Fergiuson | Published: 5/11/2023

A bill that would have changed Ontario’s conflict-of-interest rules after developers attended a stag-and-doe party and wedding for one of Premier Doug Ford’s daughters has been blocked. The bill would have amended the Members’ Integrity Act to make it clear members of the legislative assembly should not take gifts that could lead to the appearance of a conflict.

California – Should Nonprofits Have to Register as Lobbyists in Long Beach? Ethics Commission Still Debating

Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 5/12/2023

As the Long Beach Ethics Commission continues to tweak its recommendations to tighten the city’s lobbying laws, nonprofits are arguing they should remain exempt from registering as lobbyists to avoid a chilling effect on their advocacy. The commission met recently to discuss some new changes it is considering to a proposal from earlier this year when they signaled that they may do away with rules that exempted nonprofits from the lobbying ordinance. The proposal now includes “advocacy” as a form of lobbying, but a rule to make groups like business improvement districts and neighborhood associations register has been dropped for now.

California – Developer Fined $4 Million for Bribing Former L.A. Councilmember Jose Huizar

MSN – Michael Finnegan (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/12/2023

A Chinese real estate company was fined $4 million for the bribes its owner paid former Los Angeles City Councilperson Jose Huizar as it sought approval to build a downtown skyscraper. U.S. District Court Judge John Walter, who has presided over a series of City Hall graft cases, bemoaned “the crushing weight of corruption” as he imposed the sentence on Shen Zhen New World I. At the company’s criminal trial, witnesses detailed more than $1 million in bribes paid to Huizar, much of it through all-expense-paid trips to Las Vegas.

California – Oakland Ethics Commission Reckons with ‘Devastating’ Budget Proposal

Oaklandside – Eli Wolfe | Published: 5/11/2023

The Oakland Public Ethics Commission has laid out in stark terms how the proposed city budget will affect its operations. Commission staff said the budget would remove funding for the Democracy Dollars program, which aims to level the city’s campaign finance landscape by giving vouchers to voters to support candidates. With only a modest budget increase, the commission also will not be able to hire additional staff for its overburdened enforcement program. Due to a prolonged staffing shortage, the enforcement chief said he must put half the city’s existing ethics cases on hold indefinitely.

Connecticut – Sullivan Sentenced to 6 Months in Prison for Lavish 2015 Kentucky Derby, Golf Trips

Yahoo News – Claire Bessette (New London Day) | Published: 5/17/2023

James Sullivan, a former chairperson of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, was sentenced to six months in prison for using the utilities’ money to pay for lavish trips in 2015 to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort. The jury convicted Sullivan, former cooperative executive Drew Rankin, and former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda on theft from a program receiving federal funds for the trips.

Florida – Miami Mayor Suarez’s Big VIP Weekend Was Worth $30K. And He Still Won’t Say Who Paid

MSN – Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/17/2023

For the second year in a row, Mayor Francis Suarez made the rounds to lavish parties during the recent Formula One race in Miami, where hosts tied to local lobbying efforts waived cover charges for elected officials. If Suarez paid the cover for each event he and his wife attended, their Grand Prix weekend would have cost well over $30,000. Suarez would not say who paid for his weekend, nor did he file a quarterly report disclosing sponsors behind a similar tour of the party circuit he made last year, as is legally required when an elected official receives complimentary admissions or free tickets from anyone outside of their immediate family.

Georgia – Republican Tapped to Lead Fulton Elections Board Withdraws Under Pressure

MSN – Amy Gardner, Matthew Brown, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 5/17/2023

An Atlanta Republican withdrew his nomination to lead the elections board of Georgia’s most populous county after voting-rights activists and national Democrats, including the state’s two U.S. senators, lobbied to block the appointment. Lee Morris’s appointment would have given Republicans a majority on the Board of Registrations and Elections in a county that forms the core of metropolitan Atlanta and is governed by a majority-Democrat commission.

Illinois – Exelon Is Paying the Legal Tab for Two Former Executives Convicted in ComEd Bribery Scheme

WBEZ – Doug McKinney | Published: 5/15/2023

Exelon has been paying the legal fees for two now-convicted former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) executives who were part of a conspiracy to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. ComEd spokesperson Shannon Breymaier noted a section of Exelon’s bylaws that specifies current and former directors and officers of the company and its affiliates qualify to have their legal costs covered in criminal cases so long as the charged were acting in “good faith” and did not believe they were engaging in criminal behavior.

Kansas – What’s in the Bag? Kansas Lobbying Expenditure

KSNT – Colter Robinson | Published: 5/17/2023

Last year, 165 “gift bags” were given to Kansas lawmakers. In Kansas, expenses related to lobbying must be reported. In 2022, a total of $287,252.76 in spending was reported. Of the total amount, only $75,209.63 was itemized. The annual lobbyist expenditure report must include the costs for items such as food and beverages, gifts, and entertainment. The purpose of the items must be documented.

Kentucky – Trump-Backed Daniel Cameron to Face Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in November

Associated Press News – Bruce Schreiner | Published: 5/17/2023

Daniel Cameron won the Republican primary for Kentucky governor, becoming the first major-party Black nominee for governor in the state’s history and setting up a November showdown with Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. Cameron, the state’s attorney general, claimed a convincing victory over a 12-candidate field. Beshear easily dispatched two challengers in his own primary. The race now shifts to the general election, which will be one of November’s most closely watched contests and could provide clues heading into next year’s presidential election.

Louisiana – LNG Lobbyists Ghost Wrote Louisiana Officials’ Letters Supporting Gas Storage Project

Louisiana Illuminator – Sara Sneath | Published: 5/17/2023

In an effort to gain federal approval for a natural gas storage project, Sempra LNG lobbyists crafted letters for Louisiana elected officials to send to federal regulators in support of the project. Last fall, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greenlit the Hackenberry gas storage project, which involves converting underground domes constructed in the 1970s to mine for salt into storage space for natural gas. Sempra LNG has been trying to build the project in Cameron Parish since 2006.

Massachusetts – Dana Pullman Sentenced to Prison in State Police Union Kickback Case

MassLive – Tréa Lavery | Published: 5/11/2023

Dana Pullman, the former president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM), was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in a kickback scheme during his time heading the union. Anne Lynch, a lobbyist who worked with him in the scheme, will serve 24 months in prison. Lynch’s lobbying firm represented SPAM in exchange for monthly retainer payments. Prosecutors say that for six years, the two used Pullman’s position to defraud members of the union, the state, and vendors seeking to do business with the state police.

Massachusetts – Federal Watchdogs Issue Scathing Reports on U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts

Politico – Lisa Kashinsky, Josh Gerstein, and Kyle Cheney | Published: 5/17/2023

Massachusetts’ top federal prosecutor leaked sensitive Department of Justice information to a reporter as part of an effort to help an ally in a political campaign and then lied about it to investigators, a watchdog found. The finding was the most damaging in a pair of reports issued by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and another federal watchdog agency against U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who announced she would resign her position.

Massachusetts – SJC Upholds AG’s Ruling Striking Ballot Question

The Eagle-Tribune – Christian Wade | Published: 5/16/2023

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a decision by then-state Attorney General Maura Healey to reject a ballot question calling for limits on campaign spending by PACs. The justices said the case is “moot” because the proponents of the referendum did not follow the state’s timelines for gathering the required number of signatures from voters to qualify for the ballot. As such, the justices said they are showing “judicial restraint” by not resolving the matter.

Michigan – Michigan Democrats’ Early Campaign Finance Bills Bolster Union Influence

Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 5/16/2023

A committee in the Democrat-controlled Michigan House advanced bills that would help labor unions, which frequently support Democratic lawmakers’ campaigns, raise money for political contributions. Democrats won control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in 40 years in November. The new proposals would remove a ban on government bodies administering payroll deductions for political committees and would broadly allow automatic deductions to be set up for giving to labor union committees.

Michigan – 2nd Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in Medical Marijuana Corruption Scheme

MSN – Arpan Lobo (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 5/12/2023

Federal prosecutors secured the fourth guilty plea in a bribery scheme involving Michigan’s former medical cannabis licensing board. Brian Pierce said he conspired to give $42,000 and other benefits to former House Speaker Rick Johnson to help clients with license applications before the board was disbanded in 2019.

New Hampshire – Bill to Boost Political Finance Transparency Heads to Sununu’s Desk

New Hampshire Bulletin – Ethan DeWitt | Published: 5/15/2023

A bill to increase campaign finance transparency in New Hampshire is headed to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. House Bill 195 would expand which groups would count as political advocacy organizations, a designation that requires them to register with the secretary of state’s office and report receipts and expenditures. Currently, the label applies only to organizations that spend $5,000 toward advocacy for or against a candidate or party in an election cycle. The bill would lower that threshold to $2,500 or more.

New York – ‘Lobbying Loophole’ Bill After LaSalle Fight Advances Through Senate

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 5/16/2023

State Senate Democrats advanced legislation to close a “lobbying loophole” on judicial nominations and other state offices that followed undisclosed efforts earlier this year to influence votes on the selection of New York’s chief judge. The bill was introduced after an Albany Times Union story highlighted the lack of public reporting requirements for outside groups seeking to buttress or oppose a judicial nomination.

New York – U.S. Supreme Court Tosses Convictions of Percoco, Kaloyeros, Developers

Albany Times Union – Robert Gavin | Published: 5/11/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out two fraud convictions during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, dealing prosecutors the latest in a series of setbacks in their efforts to pursue federal charges of public corruption in state government. The court unanimously overturned the bid-rigging convictions of SUNY Polytechnic Institute founder Alain Kaloyeros and three businesspeople while also reversing the fraud-related conviction of Joseph Percoco, the once powerful top aide to Cuomo.

New York – Head of NYC Campaign Finance Board Resigns Six Months After Taking Job

Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 5/16/2023

The head of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is stepping down from her post just six months after taking the job. Beth Rotman became the agency’s third executive director when she took the position in October. She cited personal reasons for departing her new role so soon. The former executive director, Amy LoPrest, will serve as the interim director of the program until the CFB completes its search for a new executive director.

New York – Eric Adams’ Transition Fined Nearly $20K by Campaign Finance Board

The City – Katie Honan | Published: 5/15/2023

The Campaign Finance Board hit New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team with nearly $20,000 in penalties for violations related to the weeks in between 2021’s election and his January 2022 inauguration. The board voted to approve $19,600 in fines for three violations, finding the account for Adams transition and inauguration committee accepted prohibited donations, failed to respond or responded late to requests for information or documentation, and failed to properly wind down “transition and inauguration expense” activities.

Ohio – Ohio Lawmakers Vote to Set Aug. 8 Election for Controversial 60% Constitutional Amendment Proposal

MSN – Andrew Tobias and Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 5/10/2023

Ohio lawmakers passed a resolution asking voters to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments. The vote caps off nearly six months of legislative wrangling largely meant to hobble an abortion rights amendment. Lawmakers are entering questionable legal territory, however, as they set the vote in August through the resolution itself. Legislation approved last December places strict limits on such special elections, and a measure aimed at loosening those restrictions faltered in the House.

Oklahoma – Ethics Commission Settles Conservative Alliance PAC Lawsuit, Kannady Mum

NonDoc – Michael McNutt | Published: 5/17/2023

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission settled a lawsuit against a PAC that spent more than $150,000 in multiple Republican legislative races in 2018 as part of an electoral effort participated in by a top GOP House leader to defeat several hardline members of his own caucus. The Conservative Alliance PAC and its treasurer, Chris Marston, admitted targeting specific candidates and failed to follow the disclosure requirements in Oklahoma law. The PAC and Marston will pay $45,000 to the state.

Oregon – Oregon Lawmakers May Consider Boosting Elected Officials’ Pay, Passing Ethics Reforms in Wake of Shemia Fagan’s Resignation

MSN – Grant Stringer (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/10/2023

Oregon lawmakers are mulling whether to boost pay for statewide officeholders and pass ethics reforms following the resignation of former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who stepped down after it was reported she had taken a $10,000 a month side job with a cannabis company. Fagan said she took the lucrative side job in part because she struggled to pay her bills as secretary of state. The post pays $77,000 per year.

Oregon – State Election Officials Fine Democratic Party of Oregon for Cryptocurrency Donation Flap

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Lauren Dake | Published: 5/12/2023

State election officials issued a $15,000 fine for the Oregon Democratic Party Democratic Party after the party changed the name of the donor of a hefty campaign check. The state also plans to monitor the party’s financial disclosures to ensure campaign finance laws are being followed in the future. The secretary of state’s office initially proposed a fine of $35,000after a three-month investigation but lowered the amount.

Pennsylvania – Cherelle Parker Wins Crowded Democratic Philadelphia Mayoral Primary; Dems Keep Pennsylvania House Majority

CBS News – Caroline Linton | Published: 5/17/2023

Philadelphia Democrats selected Cherelle Parker to be their party’s mayoral nominee. Parker will be favored to win the general election in November when she takes on Republican David Oh. The mayor’s race was the most expensive in the city’s history, with two candidates – Derek Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez – dropping out because the price of the race was too high. In addition, Democrats narrowly maintained their majority in the Pennsylvania House, thanks to a win in a closely watched special election.

South Carolina – Supreme Court to Consider South Carolina Plan That ‘Exiled’ Black Voters

MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/15/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider South Carolina’s attempt to reinstate a congressional redistricting plan that a lower court found had “exiled” 30,000 Black voters to create a district winnable for a White Republican candidate. The three-judge panel in January said the plan by the GOP-led Legislature split Black neighborhoods in the Charleston area to create a “stark racial gerrymander.” The judges found that South Carolina’s mapmaker tried to keep the African American population below a certain target in the district, treating Charleston County “in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the state.”

Tennessee – Former State Sen. Brian Kelsey Won’t Be Allowed to Change Guilty Plea; July Sentencing Set

MSN – Melissa Brown (Nashville Tennessean) | Published: 5/16/2023

Philadelphia Democrats selected Cherelle Parker to be their party’s mayoral nominee. Parker will be favored Former Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a federal campaign finance case. Kelsey sought to take his case to trial after what he called a flawed plea deal in November 2022, when he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his failed 2016 congressional campaign. U.S. Chief District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw, Jr. criticized Kelsey’s legal argument that he did not fully understand the implications of a criminal felony plea, given his career as a constitutional lawyer and a state lawmaker.

Texas – A TxDOT Commissioner Resigned in 2018. He Continued Drawing Pay for Five Years.

Yahoo News – Tony Plohetski (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 5/11/2023

In February 2018, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Commissioner Victor Vandergriff resigned from his governor-appointed position. Instead of stopping his payments, the state continued to cut him 62 monthly paychecks totaling nearly $92,000, plus benefits over the next five years. The state took steps to stop the payments after reporters asked why Vandergriff was still getting paid. Vandergriff’s abrupt exit came a month after the Texas Tribune reported Vandergriff had performed work as a private lobbyist during trips to Austin that were paid for by TxDOT.

Virginia – How Redistricting Reform Is Launching the Virginia General Assembly into a New Era

Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/16/2023

The dramatically different electoral maps created after Virginia voters approved a new redistricting process in 2021 have been a clear factor in the ongoing institutional shake-up at the General Assembly, pushing many incumbents out and opening more room for candidates to run in new districts other incumbents cannot fully claim as their own. No matter which party wins control in November, the state Legislature will look very different when it reconvenes. That is fueling both trepidation over the loss of longtime statehouse figures and optimism over the opportunity to build anew.

Washington – Smiley PAC for ‘Political Outsiders’ Actually Pays Campaign Debt

Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 5/13/2023

A few months after her unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley announced the launch of a new PAC to boost “political outsiders” across the country. Making the rounds of sympathetic conservative TV and radio shows, Smiley promoted Endeavor PAC and appealed for money.  What Smiley did not mention during her media tour is that donations solicited by her PAC are earmarked first to retire a six-figure debt lingering from her Senate campaign.

Washington – Before Rule Change, AG Bob Ferguson Moves $1.2M ‘Surplus’ to Campaign

Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 5/11/2023

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson shifted more than $1.2 million in surplus campaign money to his 2024 gubernatorial bid, getting ahead of a ruling placing new limits on such transfers. The Public Disclosure Commission voted to close the loophole that allowed such transfers without counting them toward individual contribution limits, agreeing with critics that the loophole violated the spirit of Washington’s campaign finance laws. The new guidance says candidates transferring surplus money should attribute the cash to specific donors.

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