News You Can Use Digest - May 5, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

May 5, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 5, 2023


Top Republicans Balk at WinRed’s Plan to Charge More for Online Donations

DNyuz – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2023

A battle over a threatened price increase has exposed growing tensions between top Republican Party officials and the company with a virtual monopoly on processing GOP campaign contributions online. Party leaders have risen up in opposition to the proposed price increase, which would siphon millions of dollars from campaigns less than 20 months after the company, WinRed, had said its finances were robust enough to forego an extra fee on every transaction.

Democratic AGs Are Using the Courts to Win on Abortion, Gun Control

MSN – Scott Wilson (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2023

Several Democratic attorneys general are moving aggressively on key social policy issues to blunt Republican initiatives across the country designed to loosen gun restrictions, outlaw abortion, and curtail the rights of transgender residents. The Democratic effort is creating what amounts to a series of state sanctuaries for those threatened by Republican laws. It also reflects a sense among the Democratic state attorneys general that a divided Congress is too deadlocked to pass any significant social policy legislation or impose civil rights protections.

Bill Would Require Disclosure of AI-Generated Content in Political Ads

MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2023

As AI image generators and other tools have proliferated, the technology has become an instrument of political messaging, mischief, and misinformation. U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke introduced legislation that would amend federal campaign finance law to require that political ads include a statement disclosing any use of AI-generated imagery. The FEC tightened rules about sponsorship disclaimers for digital ads, making clear the requirement to disclose who paid for ads promoted on websites also apply to advertising on other platforms, such as social media and streaming sites.

Fugees Rapper Pras Michél Guilty in Sprawling Corruption Trial

MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023

Pras Michel, a rapper and producer best known as a member of the hip-hop group the Fugees, was convicted on 10 felony counts for his role in a tangle of conspiracies involving money laundering, campaign finance violations, illegal lobbying, and witness tampering. He was accused of accepting $865,000 from Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and giving that money to straw donors who used it to donate to former President Obama. Michel was also accused of trying to convince the Trump administration and the Justice Department to drop investigations into Low and assisting China in its efforts to have a dissident brought back to the country.

Pence Appears Before Jan. 6 Grand Jury in Trump Special Counsel Probe

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a grand jury that has been investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol and alleged efforts by Donald Trump and others to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Pence has said he is not asserting executive privilege, which could span other discussions, including his conversations with Trump and other top White House advisers, and matters not directly related to his constitutionally mandated Senate role. Attorneys for Trump challenged the Pence subpoena on executive privilege grounds to preserve the confidentiality of presidential decision-making.

Deep Divide at Supreme Court Ethics Hearing, Despite Some GOP Calls for Action

MSN – Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2023

A U.S. Senate hearing on Supreme Court ethics was dominated by partisan clashes, even as some Republican senators suggested the justices should be paying attention to public calls for a more robust and clear code of conduct. Judiciary Committee Chairperson Richard Durbin called the hearing after recent revelations about unreported lavish travel and real estate deals involving Justice Clarence Thomas and a billionaire Republican donor. He and other leading Democrats, along with advocates for court transparency, have grown increasingly frustrated with the justices’ refusal to set stronger rules for reporting and acting on potential conflicts.

Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.

ProPublica – Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 5/4/2023

In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in Georgia. Thomas had taken legal custody of Mark Martin when he was six years old. Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for one year at the school was the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow. Thomas did not report the tuition payments from Crow on his annual financial disclosures.

Carlson’s Text That Alarmed Fox Leaders: ‘It’s not how white men fight’

Yahoo News – Jeremy Peters, Michael Schmidt, and Jim Rutenberg (New York Times) | Published: 5/2/2023

A text message sent by Tucker Carlson that set off a panic at the highest levels of Fox on the eve of its billion-dollar defamation trial showed its most popular host sharing his private, inflammatory views about violence and race. The discovery of the message contributed to a chain of events that ultimately led to Carlson’s firing. For years, Carlson espoused views on his show that amplified the ideology of white nationalism. But the text message revealed more about his views on racial superiority.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Council Approves Lobbyist Registry for Barrie

Barrie Today – Bob Bruton | Published: 5/4/2023

The city council approved creating a lobbyist registry for Barrie. The registry will take effect January 1, 2024, and Suzanne Craig, the city’s integrity commissioner, will be appointed as interim registrar. Lobbyists will be required to register and report their activities no later than 10 days after a meeting has taken place with a public officeholder. Those who are registering as a lobbyist must have their profile approved by the registrar. The city will develop an online tool for submissions.

Arizona – Group Wants to Keep Dark Money Out of Politics

KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 4/30/2023

The group that convinced Arizona voters last year to expose “dark money” contributions to political campaigns wants a federal judge to toss a bid by a conservative advocacy group to kill the new law. In court filings, attorneys for Voters’ Right to Know said there is nothing inherently unconstitutional about ensuring that voters know the true source of funds being spent to influence their decisions on candidates and ballot measures. Hanging in the balance is Proposition 211.

California – Cooling Off Bill Heats Up Capitol Controversy, Gets Shelved

Capitol Weekly – Lisa Renner | Published: 4/27/2023

A bill to slow the “revolving door” of legislative staffers to lobbyist firms in California was shelved after sexual harassment victims’ advocates expressed opposition. Senate Bill 573 would have set the waiting period at one year and would be applied to staff on an issue-specific basis. Members of We Said Enough, a harassment victims’ group, said the waiting period could prevent victims from pursuing “natural career pathways” if they have to leave their Capitol jobs to flee sexual abuse or bullying.

California – Cupertino Lobbyist Rules Likely to Weather Constitutional Challenge

Courthouse News Service – Natalie Hanson | Published: 5/1/2023

The League of Women Voters of Cupertino-Sunnyvale filed a lawsuit against the city of Cupertino in 2022, claiming the ordinance that requires lobbyists to register and file disclosure reports is an overbroad regulation. The complaint contends the requirements have chilled members’ ability to exercise their protected rights to assemble, engage in free speech, and petition the government. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White dismissed the case, finding the ordinance does not directly regulate who can speak or what they can say.

California – FPPC Opens Investigation into Chula Vista Official Over Public Disclosure Laws

MSN – Tammy Murga (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 5/3/2023

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas violated conflict-of-interest and economic-interest disclosure laws. Laura Wilkinson Sinton, who lodged the complaint, is a local cannabis business owner who sued the city in 2020 over a permit application for her business Caligrown. She asserts Cardenas has not publicly disclosed in her statements of economic interest the cannabis companies represented by Grassroots Resources, the political consulting firm that employs Cardenas.

California – S.F. Corruption Scandal: Here’s the latest prominent figure to plead guilty

MSN – Mallory Moench (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 5/2/2023

John Porter, a former executive at the Recology trash-hauling company, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud, admitting he paid more than $55,000 in bribes to disgraced former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who was at the center of a web of corruption in multimillion-dollar contracts for city services and now faces seven years in prison. The charge against Nuru for fraud in January 2020 started a domino effect of criminal actions against other city employees and contractors.

California – El Monte Will Require Lobbyists to Register, Limit Gifts to City Officials to $50 a Month

MSN – Jason Henry (Pasadena Star-News) | Published: 4/28/2023

Starting May 18, lobbyists in El Monte will need to register with the city, publicly disclose their clients, and adhere to a $50 monthly gift limit. The ordinance requires lobbyists to register within 15 days of any lobbying in the city and to identify their clients when presenting at council meetings if they are not already registered. After the initial registration, lobbyists are required to submit reports on their activities twice a year.

Colorado – Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams’ Day Job as a Legislative Aide Raises Some Concerns at the Capitol

Colorado Public Radio – Bente Birkeland | Published: 4/27/2023

Dave Williams, the new head of the Colorado Republican Party, is also working full time as a state legislative aide, an unusual arrangement that has some questioning how he can fulfill the responsibilities of both positions without running afoul of legislative rules. It is not unheard of for a GOP chairperson to have a day job and historically it was a volunteer role. Legislative rules say aides should be impartial and free of conflicts-of-interest while performing their duties, being sure to “maintain objectivity,” and not let outside biases impact their work.

Connecticut – Do Bridgeport Officials’ Free Concert Tickets Break Ethics Rules?

Stamford Advocate – Brian Lockhart | Published: 4/30/2023

Candidates challenging Joe Ganim’s mayoral re-election agreed that average residents should be granted better access to the 25-seat suite the city of Bridgeport maintains at its new concert amphitheater. City Attorney Mark Anastasi argued the use of the suite by Bridgeport officials does not violate sections of the municipal code forbidding financial gains and preferential treatment. Records for 2022 showed the two-tickets-per-person limit was not always enforced and many of the city employees who attended shows were not average rank-and-file workers but higher-level staffers or those with close ties to Ganim or the local Democratic Party.

Florida – In Blow to DeSantis, Florida Bills to Limit Press Protections Are Shelved

DNyuz – Ken Bensinger (New York Times) | Published: 5/3/2023

Legislation that would have sharply curbed press protections in Florida will not face a vote this year, a rare example of forces on the right thwarting a piece of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s agenda. The bills proposed sweeping changes to laws that shield media outlets from liability in defamation cases and sought to make it easier for private citizens to file libel suits. In addition to opposition from news outlets and free-speech groups, the legislation faced resistance from his allies, including right-wing media.

Florida – Appeals Court Upholds Florida Voting Restrictions Approved by GOP Lawmakers

MSN – Bruce Ritchie and Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 4/27/2023

A federal appeals court sided with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when it overturned a lower court’s decision on a controversial voting law. That law placed restrictions on the use of drop boxes and set new requirements for voter registration groups, among other things. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker had ruled the law was discriminatory against minorities and placed unconstitutional burdens on voters. Walker ordered the state to get court approval for a decade before it enacts changes in three areas of election law.

Florida – The First Arrests from DeSantis’s Election Police Take Extensive Toll

MSN – Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2023

Many of the initial 20 arrests announced by the Office of Election Crimes and Security in Florida have stumbled in court. Six cases have been dismissed and five other defendants accepted plea deals that resulted in no jail time. Only one case has gone to trial, resulting in a split verdict. The others are pending. Critics say the low numbers point to the overall strength of Florida’s electoral system and a lack of sufficient evidence to pursue further charges. DeSantis pushed through a bill ensuring the statewide prosecutor has jurisdiction over election crime cases, an attempt to resolve an issue several judges have raised in dismissing cases.

Illinois – Defendants Found Guilty on All Counts in ‘ComEd Four’ Trial; Juror Says Panel Wanted ‘Politics to Run in a Correct Manner’

MSN – Jason Meisner, Ray Long, and Megan Crepeau (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/2/2023

A jury convicted all four defendants of bribery conspiracy at their trial in Chicago that provided an inside look at “pay-to-play” politics in Illinois that prosecutors said involved the state’s largest electric utility and, at the time, one of its most powerful politicians. Federal prosecutors presented evidence to show two former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) executives, a former utility consultant, and a longtime government insider arranged contracts, jobs, and money for associates of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, once one of the nation’s most powerful legislators, to ensure proposed bills boosting ComEd profits became law.

Illinois – Illinois Set to Become First State to End Book Bans

Politico – Shia Kapos | Published: 5/3/2023

Illinois is poised to become the first state to punish public institutions that ban books. Gov. JB Pritzker has said he supports a House bill that would withhold state funding from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries that remove books from their shelves. The impetus for the legislation came from Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees library systems and their funding. Giannoulias said he could not fathom that book banning is happening in 2023.

Illinois – Judge Rules Niles Cannot Have an Elected Ethics Board; Voters Won’t Learn Results of April 4 Election

Yahoo News – Caroline Kubzansky (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/26/2023

Voters in Niles, Illinois, will probably never know the results of an April 4 election after a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled that village ordinance and structure does not allow for the creation of an elected ethics board. The ruling appears to end the effort by some citizens to initiate an elected ethics panel and Mayor George Alpogianis indicated the village’s appointed ethics board would be reconstituted.

Iowa – Iowa Legislature Passes Bill Restricting State Auditor’s Access to Records

MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2023

Republican lawmakers in Iowa passed a bill that would limit the state auditor’s access to certain records, a move the auditor says is intended to hamstring the office of the only statewide elected Democrat and could put $12 billion of federal funding at risk. The bill would prohibit the auditor from accessing a wide variety of records unless the agency being audited “agrees that the information is necessary for the purposes of the audit.” It would set up a three-person arbitration board in the case of any disputes about whether a state agency should provide documents to the auditor’s office.

Kentucky – Louisville Councilman Anthony Piagentini Sues Ethics Commission Investigating Him

MSN – Lucas Aulbach (Louisville Courier-Journal) | Published: 5/4/2023

Louisville Metro Council member Anthony Piagentini is pushing back against an ethics complaint filed against him. Piagentini filed a lawsuit alleging the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission disclosed confidential records in the case to the media and to the person who filed the complaint against him, and the city has failed to comply with its open meetings laws.

Maine – Portland City Council Establishes Clean Elections Program

Yahoo News – Rachel Ohm (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 5/1/2023

Portland city councilors approved creating a municipal clean elections program that will provide campaign funding to candidates in local races, starting with the November election. Candidates for mayor, city council, and school board will all be eligible for the funds staring June 1. Those interested in participating can register with the city clerk and begin collecting qualifying contributions of five dollars from voters to be eligible for the municipal funds.

Maryland – Ex-Legislative Black Caucus Chair Sees Lobbying Opportunities for People of Color

Maryland Daily Record – Jack Hogan | Published: 4/27/2023

Former Maryland Del. Darryl Barnes, the previous chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he hopes his transition into lobbying will open the door for more Black people to join the profession. Barnes recently joined Evans & Associates, an Annapolis lobbying firm. Barnes plans to establish a Black lobbying association in the state to recruit and mentor future lobbyists and focus on policies affecting the African American community.

Michigan – Will Michigan’s Financial Disclosure Law Reveal Politicians’ Long-Hidden Perks? It’s Up to Them.

MLive – Simon Schuster | Published: 5/1/2023

Last November, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring state elected officials to disclose information about their personal finances for the first time. Proposal 1 provides some broad disclosure requirements such as descriptions of assets and debts, sources of earned and unearned income, and memberships in organizations without much more detail. The proposal required legislators to pass a law implementing the financial disclosure system by the end of this year. It means the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will have a lot of latitude to choose precisely how much transparency voters see.

Montana – Son Asked Montana Governor to Veto Anti-Trans Bill. It Didn’t Work.

MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 4/28/2023

Few expected a lobbying effort from the Montana governor’s son. Gov. Greg Gianforte had heard from other queer activists for weeks as the state Legislature advanced anti-transgender bills. But his son caught the attention of queer and trans people across the state and country for trying to persuade his father not to sign the bills. David Gianforte, who came out publicly as nonbinary very recently and uses he and they pronouns. Despite his son’s attempts, the governor signed a bill restricting gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths, joining 14 states that have passed similar laws since January.

Montana – Judge Rejects Zooey Zephyr Bid to Return to Montana House

Yahoo News – Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown (Associated Press) | Published: 5/2/2023

State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the transgender lawmaker silenced after telling Republicans they would have blood on their hands for opposing gender-affirming health care for children, was barred from returning to the Montana House floor in a court ruling that came just hours before the Legislature wrapped up its biennial session. District Court Judge Mike Menahan said it was outside his authority to overrule lawmakers who voted to exclude Zephyr from the floor and debates. He cited the importance of preserving the Constitution’s separation of powers.

Nebraska – Complaint Dismissed Against State Capitol Bible Study, Leader Says He’s Being More Careful

Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 4/27/2023

A formal complaint that Arin Hess, the leader of a State Capitol Bible study group, needed to register as a lobbyist has been dismissed by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Hess organizes a weekly Bible study with about a dozen state senators and offers a similar meeting for legislative staffers. He also provides pastoral support and counsel at least three days a week at the Capitol. Hess said he has become more watchful that the studies do not stray into legislative matters.

Nebraska – Lawmakers Denounce Complaint Against Megan Hunt Alleging Conflict of Interest in Trans Bill

Omaha World Herald – Chris Dunker (Lincoln Journal-Star) | Published: 4/26/2023

Several Nebraska lawmakers denounced a complaint filed against state Sen. Megan Hunt, who is mother to a trans child, alleging she could benefit financially if a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors fails in the Legislature. Senators from both sides of the political aisle condemned a complaint submitted to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission as “frivolous” and “malicious.” Others called it a deliberate attempt to intimidate and harass a lawmaker and her family.

New Jersey – N.J. Campaign Manager Charged with Election Fraud in 2021 Primary for Governor

MSN – S.P. Sullivan (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/2/2023

A longtime New Jersey political operative faces criminal election fraud charges after authorities say he filed a petition with nearly 2,000 bogus signatures on behalf of his romantic partner, a frequent candidate for office. Jim Devine faces third-degree charges of election fraud and records tampering stemming from a petition for Lisa McCormick’s failed 2021 bid for governor. The charges against Devine are the latest in a string of political controversies involving the couple.

New York – State Launches Investigation of Assembly’s Unregistered Day Care Center

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 4/28/2023

The New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) confirmed it will investigate an unlicensed childcare center that state Assembly leaders have been operating for several months in the Legislative Office Building. The complimentary childcare service, which has been staffed by two legislative aides, has provided day care services for a handful of Democratic Assembly members. Although Speaker Carl Heastie’s office has used the term “drop-in center” to describe the day care room, OCFS generally defines those centers as serving homeless and runaway youth.

North Carolina – North Carolina Court, with New Partisan Mix, Reverses Itself on a Key Voting Case

Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2023

The North Carolina Supreme Court, with a new Republican majority, threw out a previous ruling against gerrymandered voting maps and upheld a photo voter identification law that colleagues had struck down as racially biased. The practical effect is to enable the GOP-controlled Legislature to scrap the court-ordered district boundaries that were used in elections last November, and draw new maps skewed in their favor for elections in 2024. Overturning such a recent ruling by the court was a highly unusual move, particularly on a pivotal constitutional issue in which none of the facts had changed.

Ohio – Can Cincinnati Recover from ‘Culture of Corruption’ Reputation While Bribery Cases Linger in Court System?

WCPO – Paula Christian | Published: 4/26/2023

Cincinnati drew national attention in 2020 when the FBI arrested three city council members on public corruption charges. Now, as two of those cases still linger in federal court, experts say the city cannot move past the embarrassment or reputational damage until they finally end. Former prosecutor and ex-council member Steve Goodin said out-of-town investors, particularly ones in commercial real estate, are still hesitant to develop in Cincinnati despite its hot market.

Ohio – Shammas Malik Wins Akron Mayoral Primary, in Line to Be the First Person of Color as Mayor

WOSU – Anna Huntsman, Abbey Marshall, and Abigail Bottar (Ideastream Public Media) | Published: 5/2/2023

City council member Shammas Malik will likely be Akron’s next mayor after winning the Democratic primary. A former assistant law director for Akron, Malik is expected to win the general election in November since there is no Republican or independent challenger on the ballot. Malik would be the first person of color to serve as mayor.

Oregon – Shemia Fagan Resigns as Oregon Secretary of State Following Cannabis Consulting Scandal

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart and Lauren Dake | Published: 5/2/2023

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will resign May 8 in reaction to a scandal over her decision to accept lucrative side work as a cannabis consultant. Fagan’s announcement followed days of escalating fallout over revelations she signed a $10,000-per-month contract with the owners of an Oregon cannabis chain at the same time her office audited state regulations on marijuana businesses. The owners are also high-profile Democratic campaign donors.

South Carolina – Final Sentences Issued in SC Statehouse Ethics Scandal Cases

Charleston Post and Courier – Jessica Holdman | Published: 4/27/2023

A judge sentenced two former South Carolina lawmakers, bringing an end to proceedings in an eight-year corruption probe that ensnared six politicians and a leading political operative. Former Sen. John Courson was sentenced to a year of probation with 100 hours of community service. Former Rep. Tracy Edge paid a fine of $500 in lieu of six months in prison six months. Both former lawmakers saw reduced sentences for cooperating with prosecutors.

Vermont – Vermont Democratic Party Files Complaint Against True North Radio, Alleging Failure to Disclose Lobbying Activity – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 4/28/2023

The Vermont Democratic Party filed a complaint against the conservative broadcasting company True North Radio for failing to disclose alleged lobbying activity. In February, True North Radio purchased dozens of spots from WCAX to air advertisements that appear to oppose the Affordable Heat Act just as lawmakers began hashing out details of the bill. Vermont’s lobbying disclosure laws require that an advertisement “intended, designed, or calculated to influence legislative action or to solicit others to influence legislative action” be disclosed within 48 hours of purchase if the ad costs more than $1,000.

Washington – Early WA Governor’s Race Skirmish? Campaign Finance Loophole Scrutinized

Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 4/28/2023

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) is considering whether to close a loophole that could give Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson a big campaign money advantage if he runs for governor next year. The debate revolves around so-called surplus accounts where state politicians are allowed to park unspent campaign donations for use in future campaigns. Under current rules, Ferguson could transfer it to a gubernatorial campaign, and then ask donors for new contributions. Ferguson’s potential opponent asked the PDC to close the loophole, saying it allows an end-run around the state’s contribution limits.

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