News You Can Use Digest - May 26, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

May 26, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 26, 2023


Chief Justice John Roberts Defends Supreme Court’s ‘Highest Standards of Conduct,’ Offers No New Rules

ABC News – Devin Dwyer | Published: 5/24/2023

Chief Justice John Roberts defended the integrity of the Supreme Court in the face of slumping public approval and growing political pressure after a recent barrage of misconduct allegations. It was the first time Roberts directly addressed growing concern about how the justices handle potential conflicts-of-interest with their personal lives, a topic that has gotten renewed attention amid a series of alleged ethical infringements by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Rioter Pictured with Foot on Desk in Speaker’s Offices Gets 4½ Years

MSN – Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2023

The U.S. Capitol rioter who was photographed with his foot propped on a desk in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offices and then tried to make money with the image was sentenced to four-and-one-half years in prison. The photograph of Richard Barnett in Pelosi’s suite of offices in 2021 became one of the defining images of the insurrection. Barnett carried a walking stick with a 950,000-volt stun device into the Capitol along with a 10-pound metal flagpole and menaced police with them, prosecutors said, but he did not assault any officers.

Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers Leader, Sentenced to 18 Years in Jan. 6 Case

MSN – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 5/25/2023

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his conviction on seditious conspiracy charges for the role he played in helping to mobilize the pro-Trump attack on the U. S. Capitol. The sentence was the most severe penalty so far in any of the more than 1,000 criminal cases stemming from the insurrection and the first to be increased for fitting the legal definition of terrorism. It was also the first to have been given to any of the 10 members of the Oath Keepers and another far-right group, the Proud Boys, who were convicted of sedition.

Tim Scott Begins Presidential Campaign, Adding to List of Trump Challengers

MSN – Jonathan Weisman and Maya King (New York Times) | Published: 5/22/2023

Tim Scott, the first Black Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from the South since Reconstruction, announced his campaign for president, bringing an aspirational message to a growing field of Republicans running as alternatives to Donald Trump. Scott enters the primary field having amassed $22 million in fundraising and having attracted veteran political operatives to work on his behalf. But his message of hope and inclusion may not resonate among base Republican voters steeped in Trump’s demands for vengeance, and the field of Republicans is about to grow far more crowded.

Crow Sidesteps Panel’s Questions About Gifts to Clarence Thomas

MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 5/23/2023

A billionaire Republican donor brushed off questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas, in a letter that argues the panel did not have the authority to investigate the lavish gifts he provided to the member of the U.S. Supreme Court. An attorney for Harlan Crow told the committee Crow did not have to answer questions about reports Thomas did not disclose that Crow had provided luxury vacations for the justice, bought property from him and paid for a relative’s private education.

Ron DeSantis’s 2024 Kickoff on Twitter Is Plagued by Technical Issues

MSN – Hannah Knowles and Faiz Siddiqui (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2023

Ron DeSantis and his allies worked to build momentum ahead of a long-expected presidential campaign launch, rolling out endorsements, sleek videos, and the image of an alligator lurking just beneath the water on his campaign website. But the novel Twitter Spaces announcement with Elon Musk that the Florida governor’s team had hyped as the culmination of his big day was plagued by glitches. The live chat came to a halt after roughly 20 minutes of mostly silence; by the time it restarted and DeSantis began his remarks, hundreds of thousands of listeners had peeled off. It was an awkward start to a campaign that had already hit numerous roadblocks.

House Votes to Refer Santos Matter to Ethics Panel

MSN – Lindsay McPherson (Roll Call) | Published: 5/17/2023

The House voted to refer a resolution from Democrats that would expel U.S. Rep. George Santos to the Committee on Ethics. Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended the move as providing Santos with “due process.” Santos was indicted on 13 federal criminal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making false statements to the House. Expelling Santos would put a dent in the GOP’s narrow four-seat majority until a special election can be held. Another Republican victory there would not be guaranteed.

School Librarians Face a New Penalty in the Banned-Book Wars: Prison

MSN – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2023

Librarians could face years of imprisonment and tens of thousands in fines for providing sexually explicit, obscene, or “harmful” books to children under new state laws that permit criminal prosecution of school and library personnel. At least seven states have passed such laws in the last two years. Another dozen states considered more than 20 similar bills this year. Some educators and activists say the laws will forge a climate of fear among school librarians, spurring the censorship of books by and about LGBTQ individuals even as the nation already faces a historic onslaught of challenges to books in those categories.

Sen. Feinstein’s Health Complications from Shingles More Severe Than Disclosed

MSN – Liz Goodwin and Carolyn Johnson (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2023

Sen. Dianne Feinstein returned to Washington after having suffered more severe health complications from her shingles diagnosis than were previously disclosed. Feinstein’s shingles triggered encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain, as well as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which causes facial paralysis. She returned to the Senate after facing pressure to resign from a few members of Congress and California progressive groups, who complained her months-long absence was slowing judicial confirmations and imperiling the Democratic agenda.

Meet the Influential New Player on Transgender Health Bills

Yahoo News – Jeff McMillan and Kimberlee Kruesi (Associated Press) | Published: 5/20/2023

Do No Harm, a nonprofit that launched last year to oppose diversity initiatives in medicine, has evolved into a significant leader in statehouses seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, producing model legislation that has been used in at least three states. Do No Harm organized as a charitable organization whose tax-exempt status would be endangered by substantial lobbying. In March, after the group had already made significant inroads in Legislatures with its model bill, lobbyists, and hearing witnesses, it incorporated Do No Harm Action as a separate nonprofit with a tax status that allows for more lobbying,

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Groups Settle Arizona Lawsuit Over Voter Intimidation at Ballot Boxes

MSN – Daniel Gilbert (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2023

An Arizona group that monitored ballot drop boxes for signs of fraud during the midterm elections settled a lawsuit and agreed to “publicly condemn intimidation of any kind in connection with the exercise of the right to vote,” according to the League of Women Voters of Arizona, which had filed the suit. The drop boxes, intended to provide a secure, convenient place to submit ballots, have become a symbol of mistrust in elections among many supporters of Donald Trump.

Arizona – Judge Dismisses Kari Lake’s Final Claim in Election Loss for Arizona Governor

Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 5/21/2023

A judge dismissed the only remaining legal claim in Kari Lake’s challenge of her loss in last year’s race for Arizona governor, affirming the election of Katie Hobbs. Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson said Lake failed to prove her claim that Maricopa County did not verify signatures on mail ballots as required by law. Lake faced a high bar in proving not only her allegation over signature verification efforts but also that it affected the outcome of her race.

California – 49ers’ Former Lobbyist Emerges as Key Witness in Anthony Becker Perjury Case

MSN – Lance Williams and Ron Kroichick (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 5/19/2023

The former chief lobbyist for the San Francisco 49ers testified Santa Clara City Councilperson Anthony Becker illegally leaked a confidential report criticizing the team’s political influence. Rahul Chandhok told a grand jury that Becker gave him a confidential copy of a watchdog agency’s report accusing the 49ers of having undue influence over government in Santa Clara, home of publicly owned Levi’s Stadium. Becker is charged with one felony count of perjury and one misdemeanor count of failing to perform his official duty.

Connecticut – Consultant on New London Pier Project Fined for Ethics Violations – Again

WSHU – Brian Scott-Smith | Published: 5/19/2023

The Connecticut Office of State Ethics fined Seabury Maritime $10,000 for violating the state’s lobbying law. It lobbied from 2017 to 2019 to gain contracts and other business from the Connecticut Port Authority, a quasi-public agency. Seabury spent over $3,000 in lobbying each year, which triggered a requirement for them to register their activity, which they failed to do. The company also did not complete any financial disclosures as required.

Florida – Developer Paid Miami’s Mayor $170K to Push His Project, Company Records State

MSN – Joey Flechas, Jay Weaver, and Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/23/2023

Internal company records provide details, for the first time, of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s private work for the development firm Location Ventures while he held public office. The company paid Suarez at least $170,000 over the past two years to help secure permits for a stalled real estate project, raising legal and ethical questions about the relationship between his role as mayor and his job as a developer’s consultant.

Florida – DeSantis Signs Bill That Makes His Presidential Run Easier

MSN – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 5/24/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed a threat to his campaign for president by signing into law a measure that makes it clear he does not have to resign his current position as governor. The change to Florida’s resign-to-run law was part of a larger overall elections bill that has drawn the scorn of Democrats and voting rights groups who have labeled it “voter suppression.” Two lawsuits were immediately filed in federal court challenging the law.

Florida – Florida Senator Sued by His Family Business for ‘Embezzling’ Money

Yahoo News – Lawrence Mower (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 5/22/2023

State Sen. Nick DiCeglie is being sued by his cousins and his family trash collection business for allegedly spending tens of thousands of the company’s dollars on political expenses, travel, and a personal loan. In two lawsuits, DiCeglie is accused of “embezzling” money while he was president of Solar Sanitation. DiCeglie has agreed to pay back some of the money, including $120,000 in loans from the company. But he said the political spending was to further the company’s business, which relies on contracts with local governments in Pinellas County.

Georgia – Book Removals May Have Violated Student Civil Rights, Education Dept. Says

MSN – Hannah Natanson and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 5/22/2023

In a move that could affect how schools handle book challenges, the federal government has concluded a Georgia school district’s removal of titles with Black and LGBTQ characters may have created a “hostile environment” for students, potentially violating their civil rights. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights investigated Forsyth County Schools’ 2022 decision to pull nearly a dozen books from shelves after parents complained of titles’ sexual and LGBTQ content. To resolve the investigation, the district agreed to offer “supportive measures” to students affected by the book removals and to administer a school climate survey.

Illinois – Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s Girlfriend, Ex-Business Partners and City Employee’s Husband Awarded Thousands in Taxpayer-Funded Grants

WTTW – Nick Blumberg | Published: 5/18/2023

The Aurora City Council has awarded dozens of taxpayer-funded business grants to local businesses in recent months. The owners of two of the companies are in personal relationships with top city officials. A majority of recent donations to Mayor Richard Irvin’s campaign fund are from people doing business with or getting incentives from the city, The council approved a $10,000 grant to Laura’s Furniture, owned by Laura Ayala-Clarke. Sources have described her as Irvin’s girlfriend.

Illinois – Under Pressure on Ethics, Illinois Lawmakers Consider Tightened Rules on Red-Light Camera Industry

Yahoo News – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/24/2023

Facing pressure to bolster state ethics laws following the recent bribery convictions of former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists, Illinois lawmakers have turned their attention to another branch of a corruption investigation: the red-light camera industry. A bill approved in the Senate seeks to place new guardrails around an industry that has been at the center of multiple federal probes that have ensnared a host of state, county, and local officials, including two state senators.

Kansas – Kansas Ethics Commission to Evaluate Factors Influencing Waiver of Campaign Finance Penalties

KPVI – Tim Carpenter | Published: 5/25/2023

At a recent meeting, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission voted to waive fines against the Geary County Republican Central Committee’s treasurer along with penalties against the treasurer of the defunct Prairie Roots PAC and a lobbyist with Kansans for Life. Others appealing campaign finance penalties had their fines upheld. The hit-or-miss voting on appeals led to discussion of how commission members placed their fingers on the scale to either enforce or waive penalties.

Kentucky – Agency Fines Alison Grimes $10,000 for Handling of Voter Data as KY Secretary of State

Yahoo News – John Cheves (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 5/19/2023

Alison Lundergan Grimes must pay $10,000 in fines for improperly ordering the downloading and distribution of voter registration data from her office while she was Kentucky’s secretary of state. The Lexington Herald-Leader and ProPublica published a series of stories on her improper use of the Voter Registration System. They also showed how Grimes pushed through a no-bid contract with a company owned by a campaign donor.

Louisiana – New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Office Sought to Avoid Public Disclosure Rules for Anti-Recall Mailer – John Stanton | Published: 5/23/2023

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration circumvented city public bidding rules to hire a public relations firm with apparent ties to one of her top advisors to defend her record as mayor in the waning days of a failed recall effort. Documents turned over to the city council under a subpoena, provide the clearest picture yet into the development of a potentially illegal taxpayer-funded mailer sent to likely voters in the week before the recall petition deadline, and the lengths to which top Cantrell officials went to obscure their work on it.

Maryland – Treasurer for Baltimore County Campaign Committees Pleads Guilty to Stealing Funds

Maryland Daily Record – Madeline O’Neill | Published: 5/25/2023

William McCollum, the treasurer for a powerful Baltimore County political slate, pleaded guilty Thursday to theft and perjury charges, admitting to stealing campaign funds from the group and from a former county councilperson’s finance committee. The charges alleged McCollum embezzled nearly $100,000 from the Friends of Cathy Bevins fund for his personal benefit. Prosecutors said McCollum used campaign money to travel with a romantic partner while in Puerto Rico and for flights to Palm Beach, Florida, and Iceland. He did not disclose those expenditures on campaign finance reports.

Massachusetts – Calls for Arroyo to Step Down from Boston City Council after Rollins Investigation

WBUR – Walter Wuthmann | Published: 5/19/2023

At least one Boston city councilor and a conservative advocacy group are calling for Councilor Ricardo Arroyo to resign following the release of two federal investigations tying him to alleged election meddling by former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins. The reports found Rollins attempted to influence the race for Suffolk County district attorney in 2022 by leaking negative information about interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden to help Arroyo, her preferred successor to the office. The Department of Justice report contains 299 mentions of Arroyo and includes portions of 380 private texts and encrypted chats between him and Rollins over two months.

Mississippi – Chris McDaniel’s Reports Deny Accurate Public Accounting of Campaign Money

Mississippi Today – Geoff Pender | Published: 5/18/2023

After six campaign finance filings – including amended, termination-amended, and even one the-computer-temporarily-ate-it reports – it is still unclear exactly how much money longtime Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel has raised or now has for his lieutenant governor campaign. McDaniel’s reports for his campaign and a PAC he created last year have been confusing and confounding, at times leaving voters in the dark on the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars and continuing to contain double-reported donations and amounts and dates that do not add up.

Nebraska – A Year After Scandal, Nebraska Legislature Revises Its Workplace Harassment Policy

Omaha World-Herald – Erin Bamer | Published: 5/17/2023

Over a year after a scandal rocked the Nebraska Legislature, lawmakers adopted a handful of changes to its workplace harassment policy, although some say there is still more work to be done. The changes were developed after the revelation that ex-Sen. Mike Groene took photos of a former female staff member without her knowledge. Soon after, Groene resigned from the Legislature, and a later investigation found his conduct was “boorish, brainless and bizarre,” although not unlawful.

New York – Trump Makes Video Appearance in New York Criminal Case, Trial Date Tentatively Set for Late March

Associated Press News – Michael Sisak | Published: 5/23/2023

Donald Trump threw up his hands in frustration as a judge scheduled his criminal trial for March 25, putting the former president and current candidate in a Manhattan courtroom in the heat of next year’s presidential primary season. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records at his family company, the Trump Organization. Trump often discusses the cases at his rallies and in other speeches and has repeatedly attacked prosecutors and judges by name. At the hearing, the judge reviewed an order barring Trump from publicly disseminating certain evidence turned over by prosecutors.

New York – Supreme Court Tosses Convictions of Cor Development Executives Steve Aiello and Joe Gerardi

MSN – Tim Knauss (Syracuse Post-Standard) | Published: 5/22/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of business executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who were accused of bid-rigging and other crimes related to state development projects. The ruling was expected due to the court’s rulings in two related cases. Alain Kaloyeros, a former economic development official in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also had his conviction formally set aside. Aiello and Gerardi, executives at Cor Development Co., were convicted of conspiring with Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

New York – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s Brothers Run Lobbying Firm with Biz Before City

MSN – Carl Campanile (New York Post) | Published: 5/22/2023

Two brothers of Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano run a lobbying firm with clients that have had business before the city during the mayor’s tenure, including with the agency that doles out tax breaks and is chaired by him, records show. Empire Strategic Planning (ESP) was founded by Nick Spano, a former state senator. John Spano is on ESP’s executive team. Mayor Spano and his siblings-led firm said it lobbies on these clients’ behalf in Albany, not Yonkers City Hall.

New York – Lobbyists Fundraise for Adams 2021 Campaign

NY1 – Courtney Gross | Published: 5/23/2023

Documents show lobbyists raised money for Eric Adams in his 2021 race to be New York City mayor, fundraising that has not been reported previously. Adams’ campaign never reported any of these lobbyists as bundlers or intermediaries with the city’s campaign finance board. By law, campaigns must report who collects donations for their campaigns.

North Dakota – Lame-Duck North Dakota Lawmakers Roamed to Faraway Conferences on the Taxpayers’ Dime

Bismarck Tribune – Jeremy Turley (Forum News Service) | Published: 5/23/2023

Since 2014, the North Dakota Legislature has spent more than $45,000 to send a dozen retiring and defeated lawmakers to out-of-state conferences. Some of the departing lawmakers served on interstate policy boards and were expected to show up to faraway meetings, but others went to conferences that could have been attended by any of their colleagues who planned to remain in the Legislature. Sen. Ray Holmberg, Holmberg, who attended more out-of-state trips than any of his peers since 2013, also signed off on his own travel during the time he served as chairperson of Legislative Management, an interim panel of top lawmakers.

Oregon – Before Oregon Elections Officials Slashed Democratic Party’s Fine, State Lawyer Blasted Party’s ‘Lackluster’ Efforts to Find True Source of $500K Donation

Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 5/23/2023

Two weeks before Oregon elections officials greatly reduced a fine against the state Democratic Party for falsely reporting the source of its largest ever campaign donation, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Gleim criticized the party, calling its efforts to correctly identify the donor “lackluster.” Gleim also said the Elections Division had no authority to reduce a resulting $35,000 fine on the party, which was determined solely on the size of the contribution donation and the number of days the party was tardy in reporting the donor.

Pennsylvania – Allegheny County Council Approves Campaign Finance Regulations

WESA – Julia Zenkevich | Published: 5/24/2023

The Allegheny County Council passed a bill that would impose FEC contribution guidelines on candidates for county offices. Those guidelines are adjusted for inflation every two years, but individual contributions are currently capped at $3,300, while PACs can give $5,000 per election cycle. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said he would likely veto the bill. He said campaign finance limits should come from the state Legislature.

Texas – Texas Pushes Church into State with Bills on School Chaplains, Ten Commandments

MSN – Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2023

Texas lawmakers were scheduled to vote on whether to require the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom in the state, part of a newly energized national effort to insert religion into public life. Supporters believe the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a high school football coach who prayed with players essentially removed any guardrails between religion and government. The legislation is one of about a half-dozen religion bills approved this session by the state Senate.

Texas – Investigators Detail Years of Alleged Misconduct by Texas AG Ken Paxton in Stunning House Committee Hearing

MSN – Zach Despart and James Barragán (Texas Tribune) | Published: 5/24/2023

A Texas House committee heard testimony that state Attorney General Ken Paxton may have violated multiple state laws and ethics rules during a hearing that summarized its months-long investigation. The testimony came a day after Paxton called for Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, accusing him of being “intoxicated” while presiding over the House recently. One area of the inquiry focused on a proposed $3.3 million agreement to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four high-ranking deputies who were fired after accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Virginia – In N. Virginia, Endorsement Primaries Point to Increasingly Politicized School Boards

MSN – Karina Elwood (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2023

As Harold Sims Jr. knocked on doors for his school board campaign, many of the Northern Virginia residents on the other side did not know there was an election in May. Sims was not campaigning for the general election or primary that most voters are familiar with. He was door knocking, along with fundraising and debating other candidates to win the local Democratic Party’s endorsement. School board races in Virginia, like most of the country, are nonpartisan. But for years, local political parties around the state have endorsed school board candidates to signal to voters which candidates match their political ideology.

Virginia – A Republican Lawmaker Delivered Doughnuts to Teachers. Then Came a Political Food Fight

Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/23/2023

Virginia Del. Amanda Batten bought almost 1,000 doughnuts to give to public school teachers in her Williamsburg-area district. The doughnut deliveries to 19 schools were accepted. But in a sign of the intensity of Virginia’s political debates over K-12 public schools, some in the system saw an ulterior motive in the gifts. A photo showed a doughnut-box label with a line in smaller print: “Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Amanda Batten.” That phrase signals an activity was funded by money from a political campaign. The pushback was so strong school officials told Batten similar doughnut drop offs would be declined due to their “political nature.”

Virginia – Though Critiques Persist, Many Agree Virginia’s New Political Maps Are ‘Quite Balanced’

Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/17/2023

As Virginia enters a high-stakes General Assembly election year, the first playing out on electoral maps drawn by outside experts rather than incumbent legislators, many lawmakers, advocates, and experts agree it looks like a fair fight, with neither party getting an undue advantage based on political geography alone. Despite fears that the new redistricting process could lead to backsliding in minority representation, a look at the field of candidates running this year indicates the Legislature elected on the new maps will be more diverse, not less.

West Virginia – Democrats Sue W.Va. Gov. Justice Over Refusal to Disclose Work Schedule

MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2023

Democrats sued West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, for refusing to release his work schedule as governor in response to public records request seeking to show a continued pattern of absenteeism. The move by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee follows months of back and forth with Justice’s office over whether disclosure of the records is required under West Virginia law. Such requests are a typical part of opposition research conducted by campaigns and political parties.

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