News You Can Use Digest - November 11, 2022 - State and Federal Communications

November 11, 2022  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 11, 2022


Democrats Buck Midterm History to Win Control of 4 States
Yahoo News – David Lieb (Associated Press) | Published: 11/9/2022

Defying historic midterm trends, Democrats wrested control of state legislative chambers away from Republicans in Michigan and Minnesota while also gaining full control of state Capitols in Maryland and Massachusetts. The Democrats’ gains gave them power to set agendas in four states that previously had politically divided governments. Only twice since 1900 had the president’s party posted a net increase in state legislative seats during a midterm election – in 1934 and in 2002, a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

‘Espionage Lite’ or Deal Making? Prosecutors Struggle to Draw a Line.
DNyuz – Rebecca Davis O’Brien (New York Times) | Published: 11/7/2022

Thomas Barrack, an adviser to former President Trump, was acquitted of violating federal law by acting as a foreign agent without authorization while trying to help the United Arab Emirates influence the Trump administration. The charges included acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the attorney general, a charge the Justice Department has referred to as “espionage lite,” a violation of Section 951 of the U.S. criminal code. In recent cases, the misconduct charged under the law more closely resembles lobbying, business dealings, or management consulting. “[Prosecutors] are now using the statute in this very fuzzy context of influence,” said Robert Kelner, an expert on government ethics law.

Fed Up with Political Text Messages? Read On.
Yahoo News – Natasha Singer (New York Times) | Published: 11/5/2022

In October, people in the United States received an estimated 1.29 billion political text messages, about twice as many as in April, according to an app that blocks Robocalls and spam texts. Many voters have complaints about it. Many were rife with divisive language or deceptive content. Political texting is becoming a go-to method for spreading doomsday scenarios, lies, and campaign smears. FEC rules requiring political ads on broadcast television, cable, and radio to disclose their sponsors do not apply to political text messages.

Federal PAC Supporting Ron DeSantis’ Presidential Bid Sues FEC Over List-Sharing Ruling
Open Secrets – Taylor Giorno | Published: 11/3/2022

Ready for Ron sued the FEC after the agency blocked the hybrid PAC from sharing a petition with tens of thousands of supporters and their contact information with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to encourage him to run for president in 2024. At the heart of the lawsuit is whether that list, something campaigns typically spend a lot of money compiling, is political speech or an in-kind contribution. If successful, the lawsuit could poke more holes in regulations barring coordination between super PACs and campaigns, experts said.

Former Government Officials’ Details Missing from Hundreds of Lobbying Returns – Stephen McDermott and Cormac Fitzgerald | Published: 11/9/2022

Dozens of former government officials who subsequently lobbied senior figures have incorrectly appeared as ‘ordinary; lobbyists on Ireland’s register of lobbying. An analysis found almost 400 returns on the Lobbying Register in which ex-ministers, ministerial advisers, and secretaries general were not listed as what are known as former Designated Public Officials as required by law. The incomplete entries included lobbying returns filed on behalf of multinationals such as Google, Huawei, Diageo, and Merck.

GOP Exuberance Crashed into Democratic Resistance to Defy Midterm Expectations
MSN – Dan Balz and Dan Keating (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2022

Few foresaw that Democrats would defy expectations of a “red wave” in the midterm elections, but the pattern of results has been a part of the country’s politics for some time, ever since Donald Trump won the White House in 2016. The forces that aligned against Trump in 2018 and 2020 were evident again on November 8. Abortion and concerns about extremism in the GOP proved as potent in energizing voters on the left as inflation, crime, and illegal immigration did in aiding Republicans. President Biden’s low approval ratings turned out to be less catastrophic for Democratic candidates than history would have suggested.

How Trump’s Bogus Election Day Claims Broke Through Facebook and Twitter Bans
MSN – Mark Scott (Politico) | Published: 11/9/2022

Donald Trump spent Election Day posting unfounded allegations on his own Truth Social platform, as well as on the encrypted messenger Telegram. Those platforms are far smaller than Facebook and Twitter, which have banned Trump, and state officials quickly debunked the claims. But his accusations boomeranged onto more mainstream platforms as candidates, high-profile influencers, and voters shared his allegations. It offers a preview of how hard it will be for even powerful platforms to contain false or misleading statements by the former president in 2024.

Investigators Search for Pricey Gifts to Trump from Foreign Leaders
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 11/4/2022

Congressional investigators are looking for dozens of pricey mementos gifted to former President Trump and his family members by foreign governments. The House Oversight Committee has asked for help in locating the items from the National Archives, which is among the agencies charged with keeping presidential gifts. The committee asked the archives to check whether the gifts are among the items transferred there from the White House at the end of Trump’s presidency as required by law. The committee is also seeking records from Trump’s team about its record keeping, a Trump adviser said.

Private Equity Firm Bets on Washington
MSN – Theodoric Meyer (Washington Post) | Published: 11/10/2022

Private equity is pouring more money into Washington, D.C., investing in a group of polling, public relations, lobbying, and political consulting firms. Seidler Equity Partners, a private equity firm based in California, has taken a minority stake in a conglomerate of 10 firms. Seidler’s investment will allow GP3 Partners to buy more companies to become a bigger player in Washington, said Darrell Lauterbach, GP3’s chief executive. K Street is highly fragmented, with hundreds of lobbying, law, communications, and political consulting firms competing for business.

Spanish Govt Proposes Rules for Lobbyists, Public Officials
Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 11/8/2022

Spain’s Council of Ministers introduced a bill to increase the transparency of interactions between public officials and lobbyists. Officials involved in any stage of policymaking would have to report their meetings with representatives of companies or groups that hoped to influence governmental decisions. Lobbyists would need to enroll in a new electronic registry of interest groups to carry out any encounters with any members of the government, among other provisions.

The FEC Isn’t Enforcing the Law. Does It Even Matter?
Mother Jones – Russ Choma | Published: 11/8/2022

With the three Democratic commissioners and the three Republican commissioners on the FEC deadlocked for years, the agency has failed to reach any meaningful consensus on major enforcement issues. Transparency activists are upset over the actions of the FEC’s newest Democratic member who joined the agency in August. Dara Lindenbaum has several times voted with the Republicans to dismiss enforcement cases that advocates had hoped would be pushed to the courts to decide. Lindenbaum and Republican Chairperson Allen Dickerson say that by finding a kind of bi-partisan agreement they are getting the FEC moving again.

Trump Called a Protest. No One Showed. Why GOP Efforts to Cry Foul Fizzled This Time.
MSN – Rosalind Helderman, Patrick Marley, and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2022

After two years of promises from Donald Trump and his supporters they would flood polls and counting stations with partisan watchers to spot alleged fraud, after threats lodged against election workers, and after postings on internet chat groups called for violent action to stop supposed cheating, a peaceful Election Day drew high turnout and only scattered reports of problems. Election officials said they believed the relative normalcy resulted from a combination of concerted effort on the part of well-prepared poll workers and voters, as well as that some of Trump’s loudest supporters were less potent than they had claimed.

U.S. Judiciary Launches Online Database of Judges’ Financial Disclosures
Reuters – Nate Raymond | Published: 11/7/2022

Members of the public will be able to search federal judges’ financial disclosure reports detailing their assets and stock trades through a congressionally mandated online database that went live recently. The launch comes after President Biden in May signed into law a bipartisan bill that would make it easier for the public to see if a judge has a financial conflicts-of-interest warranting his or her recusal from hearing a case. The law was prompted by a Wall Street Journal report that more than 130 federal judges had failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned stock.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Arizona Voters Back Ballot Measure Taking Aim at ‘Dark Money’
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2022

Arizona voters approved a ballot measure that aims to curb “dark money” in elections. The money is veiled because it travels through nonprofits, which are exempt under current law from disclosing their donors. Proposition 211 requires any group making independent expenditures of at least $50,000 in statewide races or $25,000 in other races to report donors contributing more than $5,000. Approval of the measure could galvanize similar efforts elsewhere, said Terry Goddard, the former Arizona attorney general who spearheaded the move to put the issue on the ballot,

California Inside the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Corruption Investigation of Its Own Watchdogs
MSN – Michael Finnegan and Laura Nelson (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 11/3/2022

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department searched the home of county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s after it had spent three years looking into an allegation that Kuehl, one of Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s harshest critics, had taken bribes from a friend in return for Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracts. A Los Angeles Times review of the case found it is based on the testimony of one person, a former Metro employee named Jennifer Loew, who brought her bribery complaint to at least four law enforcement agencies but found a receptive audience only at the Sheriff’s Department. The Times found no evidence to support Loew’s allegation.

California Jury Returns Guilty Verdicts on All Counts in Santa Clara County Sheriff Corruption Trial
MSN – Robert Salonga (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 11/3/2022

A jury reached guilty verdicts on all six counts in the civil corruption trial of now-former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, capping a monthlong trial that Smith nearly upended with her abrupt resignation, though a judge ordered the case to continue. A grand jury’s formal accusations alleged she illicitly steered concealed-carry weapons permits to donors and supporters, undermined state gift-reporting laws, and stifled a civilian auditor’s probe into a high-profile injury case at the county jail.

Florida Conflicts of Interest, Cronyism at SFRTA, Tri-Rail’s Operator, Amid Furtive Renewal of Costly Lobbying Contract
Florida Bulldog – Dan Christensen | Published: 11/7/2022

The governing board of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), ditched staff plans to seek bids for lobbying services and instead rehired its longtime lobbyist amid apparent cronyism, conflicts-of-interest, and possibly wasteful spending. The rehiring of lobbyist Candice Ericks, vice president of TSE Consulting, the lobbying arm of the Tripp Scott law firm, came during a March meeting. Among the SFRTA board members who voted to abandon seeking bids and renew Ericks’s expiring $246,000-a-year contract was Ericks’s own boss – Tripp Scott co-founder, fellow TSE lobbyist, and SFRTA Vice Chairperson James Scott.

Georgia Georgia’s Senate Race Will Go to a Runoff Between Warnock and Walker
MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2022

The U.S. Senate race in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker is heading to a December 6 runoff. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the state has looked at “the outstanding vote totals and neither one would be on 50 percent,” the threshold needed for victory. Georgia is one of two states, along with Louisiana, in which runoffs are required during general elections when no candidate secures more than half the votes.

Georgia Gingrich Ordered to Appear Before Ga. Grand Jury Probing 2020 Election
MSN – Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2022

A Virginia judge rejected an attempt by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to evade a summons for his grand jury testimony in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating efforts by supporters of former President Trump to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. Gingrich’s lawyers argued the federal law that normally requires states to honor out-of-state grand jury summonses should not apply in this case because the special grand jury in Georgia lacks the power to indict. But Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith said the law does not parse out a difference between types of grand juries.

Hawaii Hawaii May Soon Have More Tools to Prosecute Public Corruption
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 11/9/2022

A statewide standards commission recommended new felonies dealing with fraud, false claims, and statements that may allow state and county prosecutors to bring charges against public officials similar to those brought by federal prosecutors in a string of public corruption cases this year. The U.S. Department of Justice has brought a handful of cases dealing with bribery and other forms of public corruption in Hawaii under the broad federal crime of honest services wire fraud. “It would have been difficult if not impossible to charge those cases under the existing state laws,” Flo Nakakuni, a deputy Honolulu prosecutor.

Kentucky Kentucky Rejects Amendment 1, in Blow to Legislature’s GOP Supermajority
MSN – Joe Sonka (Louisville Courier-Journal) | Published: 11/8/2022

Kentucky voters rejected a ballot referendum that would have amended the state constitution to allow lawmakers to call themselves into a special session, a victory for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear over the supermajority Republican Legislature. Only the governor can call legislators into a special session, during which they are only permitted to pass bills that are within the parameters set by the governor, as Beshear did in August to address flood relief.

Kentucky ‘Shocks the Conscience.’ Panel Orders Kentucky Judge Removed Over Ethics Violations
MSN – Bill Estep (Lexington Herald Leader) | Published: 11/4/2022

A Kentucky judge committed a long list of violations that included mismanaging his courtroom, pressuring people for campaign contributions, violating people’s rights, and rigging bids for a home-detention monitoring service, a state ethics panel ruled. The Judicial Conduct Commission issued an order removing Circuit Court Judge James Jameson from office. Jameson was up for reelection, but the panel went further to say he is unfit for office in a new term as well.

Maine Maine Gives Companies More Time to Disclose PFAS Use After Requests from Lobbying Groups
Bangor Daily News – Mehr Sher | Published: 11/7/2022

Maine lawmakers passed a law last year to require all manufacturers selling items in the state, from cars to T-shirts, to disclose whether their products contain toxic chemicals. Requiring disclosure was also a step toward Maine’s plan to prohibit the sale of products containing the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. As the deadline to make the information public approaches, the state has been allowing national lobbying groups to delay the requirement on behalf of their members, some of whom said they did not even know they had been granted an extension.

Massachusetts AP Sources: Justice Dept. watchdog probing Mass. US attorney
Yahoo News – Alanna Durkin Richer and Michael Balsamo (Associated Press) | Published: 11/7/2022

The Justice Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation of the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, prompted by U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins’ appearance at a political fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden. The inspector general’s office is focusing on Rollins’ attendance at the Democratic National Committee event in July as well as her use of her personal cellphone to conduct official business. An investigation by the department’s internal watchdog targeting one of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, is highly unusual.

Massachusetts Former State Police Union Head Dana Pullman, Lobbyist Anne Lynch Convicted of Racketeering, Fraud
MSN – Tom Matthews (MassLive) | Published: 11/3/2022

The former president of the Massachusetts State Police union, Dana Pullman, and former lobbyist Anne Lynch were convicted by a federal jury of racketeering, fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax crimes. Pullman was the president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM) from 2012 until his resignation in 2018. Lynch’s lobbying firm represented SPAM during the same time. Pullman and Lynch defrauded SPAM members and the state when Lynch paid Pullman a $20,000 kickback in connection with a settlement agreement between SPAM and the state, officials said.

Michigan Proposal 1: Michigan voters pass term limits, financial disclosure reform measure
Detroit News – Carol Thompson | Published: 11/8/2022

Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that would require state lawmakers to disclose some information about their personal finances and relax legislative term limits. Michigan is one of few states that do not require lawmakers to disclose anything about their personal finances while in office. Proposal 1 requires legislators, the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general to file annual financial disclosure reports starting in April 2024.

New Jersey Lawmaker Calls for Review of State Office That Prosecutes Public Corruption Cases
New Jersey Monitor – Dana DiFilippo | Published: 11/4/2022

New Jersey Joe Cryan is calling for an independent review of the state attorney general’s office of public integrity and accountability after a Bergen County judge dismissed a public corruption indictment and raised questions about the office’s ethical conduct. Cryan’s demand comes after several high-profile losses for the office, which former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal launched in 2018 to prosecute public officials and law enforcement for misconduct.

New Mexico State Files Lawsuit Against Political Action Committee
KRQE – Curtis Segarra | Published: 11/9/2022

New Mexico’s Ethics Commission filed a lawsuit against a political advocacy group, alleging the Working Families Organization, which funded a text message campaign to influence voters, did not properly disclose who was funding the campaign. The lawsuit also alleges the group did not properly register with the New Mexico secretary of state’s office as a political committee.

New York Trump’s Company to Get a Court Monitor, Judge Rules
MSN – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 11/3/2022

A judge granted the New York attorney general’s request that former President Trump’s business be overseen by an independent monitor. The order requires the Trump Organization’s dealings with banks and sale of major assets be subject to supervision by a third-party expert to be named by the court. The monitor will oversee attempts to transfer assets and will screen any future reports of Trump’s net worth to financial and insurance institutions.

North Dakota North Dakota Voters OK Term Limits for Governor, Legislators
Associated Press News – James MacPherson | Published: 11/9/2022

Voters in North Dakota approved term limits for their governor and state legislators. The ballot measure adds an article to the state constitution limiting lawmakers to eight years each in the state House and Senate. A governor could not be elected more than twice.

Ohio Ohio County Auditor Wins Reelection Weeks Before His Corruption Trial
MSN – Erin Glynn (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 11/9/2022

An indicted county auditor in Ohio won his reelection race just weeks before he is scheduled to face trial on six charges related to public corruption. If Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds is convicted of a felony, the county Republican Party would appoint his replacement. Reynolds has pleaded not guilty and said the charges are false and politically motivated.

Oregon NRA Committee to Be Fined for Delay in Reporting Donation to Campaign against Oregon Measure 114 Gun Control Initiative
Portland Oregonian – Maxine Bernstein | Published: 11/7/2022

The Oregon Elections Division said it will fine a National Rifle Association political committee more than $8,000 for the tardy reporting of a $25,700 donation to the campaign opposing Measure 114, a gun control ballot proposal. The NRA Oregonians for Freedom committee received the contribution from the NRA Political Victory Fund on July 29 but did not report it until November 1, far beyond the 30-day deadline.

Oregon Oregon Voters Pass Measure 113, Punishing Lawmakers for Walkouts
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud and Gosia Wozniacka | Published: 11/8/2022

Oregon lawmakers who boycott the state Capitol for an extended period to defeat legislation they oppose could now face a penalty after voters approved Measure 113. The ballot measure amends the state constitution so that going forward, any lawmaker with at least 10 unexcused absences will be disallowed from serving in the Legislature during the subsequent term. Republicans used walkouts in 2019 and 2020 to kill Democrats’ environmental reform plans and to defeat vaccine and gun regulation bills.

Pennsylvania Kenyatta Johnson and His Wife, Dawn Chavous, Acquitted at Federal Bribery Trial
MSN – Jeremy Roebuck and Oona Goodin-Smith (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 11/2/2022

A federal jury found Philadelphia City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson not guilty of participating in a bribery scheme that allegedly saw him accept thousands of dollars from two former nonprofit executives in exchange for political favors. Jurors also acquitted Johnson’s wife, Dawn Chavous, along with former executives at Universal Companies, Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan. The jury rejected the government’s accusations that Johnson sold the powers of his office to the executives, who funneled their payoffs through a sham $67,000 consulting contract with Chavous.

Pennsylvania Mistrial Declared in Trial of Nonprofit Executives Accused with Kenyatta Johnson
MSN – Jeremy Roebuck (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 11/7/2022

A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case of two codefendants of Philadelphia City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson who were facing separate charges of embezzling funds and bribing a school official in Wisconsin. The decision came after one of the jurors who had been hearing the case against Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan, former executives at the nonprofit Universal Companies, contacted COVID during the trial. Typically, that juror would have been replaced and the trial would have continued. But due to a high jury turnover rate throughout the trial, there were no alternate jurors left.

Tennessee Nashville Council Member Faces Ethics Inquiry After Constituent’s Car Towed
MSN – Cassandra Stephenson (The Tennessean) | Published: 11/9/2022

A Nashville Councilperson Joy Styles is facing accusations she misused her authority to have a constituent’s car towed. The Metro Ethical Conduct Board reviewed a complaint against Styles and voted to hold a hearing in December to review allegations of improper use of official power. Nicole Weatherspoon, a resident of Styles’ district, filed an ethics complaint that accused Styles of improperly authorizing a company to tow Weatherspoon’s vehicle, which had a flat tire, from a public road. The complaint says a Performance Towing & Recovery employee told Weatherspoon the vehicle was towed under the authorization of “your councilwoman.”

Texas Ads Against Abbott, Other Texas Republicans by Coulda Been Worse Test Campaign Ethics Law
MSN – Allie Morris and Robert Garrett (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 11/4/2022

The third biggest spender in Texas elections this year is a shadowy group that has not disclosed any information to the state, and is testing the limits of campaign finance law, experts said. Coulda Been Worse LLC has dumped more than $25 million into ads opposing Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republicans. Since forming out of state in late August, Coulda Been Worse has not revealed its donors or leadership. Ethics experts and open government advocates say voters deserve to know who is trying to influence elections.

Texas Fifth Circuit Parses Texas Ban on Boycotting Israel
Courthouse News Service – Cameron Langford | Published: 11/7/2022

Palestinians started the so-called boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement to protest Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. It advocates for refraining from doing business with the Israeli government or companies that benefit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Texas passed an anti-BDS law but pared it down later, excluding sole proprietorships, companies with nine or less employees, and contracts under $100,000. A company sued Houston and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking an injunction ordering the city to remove the clause from its contract offer and declare the law unconstitutional.

Washington DC D.C. Elections Board Denies Silverman’s Request to Vacate Ruling on Ward 3 Poll
MSN – Michael Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 11/4/2022

The District of Columbia Board of Elections ruled city Councilperson Elissa Silverman’s due-process rights were not violated when the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) determined she misspent public campaign funds on polling for the Democratic primary, despite her objections about the breadth and timeline of the probe. The OCF ordered Silverman to return $62,000 for the cost of two polls she commissioned ahead of the June primary.

Wisconsin Military Ballots in Wisconsin Will Be Counted Under Judge’s Ruling
MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 11/7/2022

A judge declined to delay or prevent the counting of military ballots in Wisconsin in a lawsuit that came after a disaffected election worker said she reached a “breaking point” and created three fake ballots to highlight flaws in the state’s voting system. Kimberly Zapata, who at the time was Milwaukee’s deputy elections director, told prosecutors she ordered the fake ballots because she was frustrated by Republicans focusing on baseless claims instead of actual weaknesses in Wisconsin’s voting procedures. Prosecutors charged Zapata with felony misconduct in office, and she was fired from her position with the city.

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