News You Can Use Digest - November 17, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

November 17, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 17, 2023


Trump Compares Political Opponents to ‘Vermin’ Who He Will ‘Root Out,’ Alarming Historians

ABC News – Soo Rin Kim and Lalee Ibssa | Published: 11/13/2023

Donald Trump vowed to “root out” his political opponents, who he said “live like vermin” as he warned supporters that America’s greatest threats come “from within” – extreme rhetoric that echoes the words of fascist dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, experts said. A Trump campaign spokesperson dismissed the backlash to his speech, at a Veterans Day rally in New Hampshire, but some historians said the parallels were alarming.

Ex-Fundraiser for George Santos Pleads Guilty to Posing as Congressional Aide to Raise Campaign Cash

Associated Press News – Dave Collins | Published: 11/14/2023

A former fundraiser for U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge, admitting he impersonated a high-ranking congressional aide while raising campaign money for Santos.  Sam Miele was caught soliciting donations under the alias Dan Meyer, who was then chief of staff for Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Miele also acknowledged he committed access device fraud by charging credit cards without authorization to send money to the campaigns of Santos and other candidates, and for his own personal use, prosecutors said.

Democrats, No Longer Squeamish on Abortion, Lean into Searing Personal Ads

DNyuz – Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 11/8/2023

Ads in the 2023 election campaign signaled a new tone in Democrats’ messaging on abortion rights, one that confronts head-on the consequences of strict anti-abortion laws. Historically, it has been Republicans who used dire warnings and shock value in advertising to make their case on the issue. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, despite being a resounding legal and policy victory for Republicans, has had the paradoxical effect of galvanizing long-held, broad public support for abortion rights.

Democrats Plan to Spend Millions to Weaken Republican Supermajorities

DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 11/14/2023

Democrats are planning to spend millions of dollars next year on just a few state legislative elections in Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, states where they have little to no chance of winning control of a chamber. Democrats are pushing to break up Republican supermajorities in states with Democratic governors, effectively battling to win back the veto pen district by district. The political dissonance of having a governor of one party and a supermajority of an opposing party in the Legislature is one of the starkest effects of gerrymandering, revealing how parties cling to evaporating power.

How the Supreme Court Settled on an Ethics Code – and What It Left Out

MSN – Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 11/15/2023

Supreme Court justices stung by controversies over the court’s ethics pledged to follow a broad code of conduct promoting “integrity and impartiality,” but without a way to enforce its standards against those who fall short. The code contains broadly worded sections relating to outside relationships, recusal from cases that could bring financial gain to family members, the use of a justice’s staff, and limits on appearances at fundraisers for groups. But there is every sign that each word was carefully chosen.

Donald Trump Exempt from Campaign Finance Laws: FEC commissioner

MSN – Kate Plummer (Newsweek) | Published: 11/10/2023

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said Donald Trump has effectively been made exempt from campaign finance laws because her agency refuses to investigate him. In at least 28 instances, she said staff at the general’s counsel’s office determined a criminal investigation was warranted. But Weintraub added that her Republican colleagues put the former president in a “category by himself” by refusing to approve any of the recommendations against Trump.

MAGA-Dominated State Republican Parties Plagued by Infighting, Money Woes

MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Patrick Marley, and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 11/13/2023

In the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan, election denial and grassroots fervor for former President Trump have rocked the Republican apparatus. Now, the state parties are plagued by infighting, struggling to raise money, and sometimes to cover legal costs stemming from Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat, threatening to hamper GOP organizing capabilities in next year’s presidential election.

Tim Scott Suspends Struggling Presidential Primary Bid

MSN – Meryl Kornfield, Marianne LeVine, and Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 11/13/2023

Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, announced he was suspending his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination after months of struggling to gain ground in polling with an uplifting message that was out of step with today’s party. Scott did not endorse any other candidate, and he declined a suggestion that he might be a vice-presidential candidate.

‘Curveball Like No Other:’ Johnson’s rise has K Street trying to keep up

MSN – Caitlin Reilly (Roll Call) | Published: 11/13/2023

Rep. Mike Johnson’s unexpected rise to speaker of the House has left K Street scrambling as lobbyists try to establish inroads with the relatively unknown lawmaker and his staff. Johnson has been in Congress for less than seven years and lacks the deep bench of long-time, trusted aides and ex-staffers that K Street usually relies on to curry favor on Capitol Hill.

McCarthy Accused of Elbowing Lawmaker, While Fight Nearly Breaks Out in Senate

MSN – Azi Paybarah, Marianna Sotomayor, and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 11/14/2023

Rep. Tim Burchett accused Rep. Kevin McCarthy of elbowing him in the back as they passed each other in a crowded hallway. Burchett was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy as House speaker. Sen. Markwayne Mullin brought a hearing to a standstill as he confronted one witness, stood up, and challenged him to a fistfight. Joanne Freeman, a history professor at Yale, said it was important for lawmakers to denounce belligerent behavior and threats, particularly when it comes from a member of their own party. “If no one speaks up it becomes representative of what that party stands for,” she said.

House Ethics Panel Examines Change to Expand Legal Expense Fund Coverage

MSN – Chris Marquette (Roll Call) | Published: 11/14/2023

The House ethics committee is considering whether to change rules about lawmaker legal expense funds to expand the pool of people who can use them to pay for their legal bills connected to a campaign or office. Rep. David Schweikert, who faced lawsuits related to his 2022 primary race, asked the committee to allow campaign staffers, vendors, and spouses draw from legal expense funds rather than having to use campaign funds.

DOJ Argues Steve Wynn Foreign Lobbying Suit Should Be Reinstated

Yahoo News – Sabrina Willmer (Bloomberg) | Published: 11/14/2023

A Justice Department attorney argued casino magnate Steve Wynn should have registered as a foreign agent when he alerted the Trump administration that China wanted to extradite a wealthy exile. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in the government’s appeal of a decision to toss civil claims against Wynn. District Court Judge James Boasberg had reasoned the Foreign Agent Registration Act only applies to ongoing violations and years had passed since Wynn was required to file a statement.

Prosecutors Urge Appeals Court to Reinstate Trump Gag Order

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 11/14/2023

Donald Trump’s renewed attacks on the family of special counsel Jack Smith and his repeated invective against likely witnesses in his Washington, D.C. criminal case warrant the urgent restoration of a gag order against him, prosecutors argued. Smith’s team urged a federal appeals court to reinstate the gag order, which a three-judge panel suspended earlier in November amid Trump’s appeal of the restrictions imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan.

Exclusive: 5 Senate Banking Dems demand more details on corporate lobbying strategy

Yahoo News – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 11/15/2023

Five Democrats who sit on the Senate Banking Committee urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to require companies to disclose more details on their corporate lobbying strategy to shareholders. Registered lobbyists are required to file quarterly disclosures that include the total spent on federal lobbying. But registrants are not required to disclose details including whether they lobbied for or against specific legislation or regulations, even as the lobbying activities of a company can carry reputational risks to its investors.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Right-Wing Site’s Reporting on Mayor Raises Ethics Questions After His Death

MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2023

Journalism professor A.J. Bauer felt uneasy when he opened an email newsletter from 1819 News. The Alabama-based website was promoting its story alleging that a small-town mayor who was also a pastor wore women’s clothing and makeup while posing online. Bauer had watched as some in the state grew increasingly hostile to those who do not adhere to traditional gender norms. The site later reporting that F.L. Copeland Jr., the mayor of Smiths Station and a pastor at First Baptist Church of Phenix City, had died by suicide.

Arizona – Rep. Leezah Sun’s Ethics Complaint Rebuttal Acknowledges Poor Behavior, Argues for No Punishment

Yahoo News – Ray Stern (Arizona Republic) | Published: 11/14/2023

An Arizona lawmaker’s rebuttal to an ethics complaint against her acknowledges some of her poor behavior and accuses a city official of potentially suffering from past “trauma” because he claimed she intimidated him. Rep. Leezah Sun faces potential expulsion from the House after being accused of making intimidating statements and interfering with a child custody case. Through her lawyer, she denied the allegations in a formal response to the complaint that charges Sun with violating the Legislature’s rule against “disorderly behavior.”

California – S.F. Mayoral Candidate’s Close Friend Was Charged in Corruption Probe. Will It Undermine His Campaign?

MSN – St. John Barned-Smith and J.D. Morris (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 11/13/2023

San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is trying to unseat Mayor London Breed in the November 2024 election, has never hidden his close relationship with Siavash Tahbazof, the patriarch of a family with deep business ties across the city, or the developer;s relatives and business associates. That puts Safaí in an awkward position after Tahbazof and two others were charged with fraud by federal prosecutors.

California – Anaheim Officials to Publicly Post Online Who They Meet With

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 11/13/2023

Anaheim City Council members voted unanimously to implement a policy that will require them to proactively post their calendar online listing meetings with lobbyists, developers, union representatives, and residents starting in January 2024. The policy comes after sworn affidavits by FBI agents and a report by independent investigators concluded the same thing: Anaheim City Hall is essentially controlled by Disneyland resort interests and lobbyists. The new calendar policy is among a host of reform proposals city council members are expected to tackle this fall.

Delaware – Delaware Supreme Court Reviews Convictions of Ex-Auditor After Corruption Allegations

MSN – Randall Chase (Associated Press) | Published: 11/15/2023

The Delaware Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn the unprecedented convictions of the state’s former auditor on public corruption charges. The court heard arguments in the case of Kathy McGuiness, who was convicted on misdemeanor charges of conflict-of-interest, official misconduct, and noncompliance with state procurement rules. The conflict-of-interest charge involved the hiring of McGuiness’s daughter as a part-time employee in the auditor’s office. McGuinness also was convicted of structuring payments to a consulting firm to avoid having to get them approved by the state Division of Accounting.

Delaware – How Hall-Long’s Refusal to Release Audit Findings Sparked Elections Reform Talks

Yahoo News – Amanda Fries (Delaware News Journal) | Published: 11/14/2023

Delaware law does not require Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long to release the audit performed on her campaign finances, but watchdogs are hoping she will do so anyway in the interest of transparency. While Hall-Long has said the audit, and the campaign’s decision to openly acknowledge it, was an act of transparency, she continues to decline to release the audit itself, instead suggesting the amended campaign finance reports “fully convey” the audit’s results. The internal audit was launched shortly after Hall-Long announced her bid for governor, prompted by what she said were “reporting issues that require attention.”

Florida – Mayor Suarez’s Secret Side Gigs Included Advising Associates of Kremlin-Linked Oligarch

Yahoo News – Shirsho Dasgupta (Miami Herald) | Published: 11/14/2023

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez earned payments totaling six figures advising two financial firms run by close associates of a Russian oligarch, two of several side jobs he refused to reveal to the public until he ran for president, with its more rigorous disclosure requirements. As a part-time mayor, Suarez can accept private employment as he sees fit, as long as it does not overlap with his mayoral duties and the employers do not receive special city benefits in return. He has insisted he kept his private jobs and public duties separate, but until now had mostly refused to reveal the identities of those employers.

Florida – City Council Members Expand Oversight After Criticizing Lobbying Contract

Yahoo News – David Bauerlein (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 11/9/2023

Jacksonville City Council will be putting more attention on no-bid contracts by having the auditor’s office attend the meetings of the Procurement Division committees that vote on awards of city contracts for everything from construction to supplies to professional services. The council will also get reports every three months from the Procurement Division on all single-source awards during that time frame. The moves were in response to Mayor Donna Deegan hiring Langton Consulting in a $300,000 no-bid contract to perform federal lobbying and grant-writing.

Georgia – Ex-Trump Allies Detail Efforts to Overturn Election in Georgia Plea Videos

MSN – Amy Gardner and Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 11/13/2023

The defendants that accepted plea deals in the Georgia election interference case made recordings that were intended to lay out what they know and be used against the other defendants. Although some of the recordings were garbled, the portions of the four statements from lawyers Jenna Ellis, Kenneth Chesebro, and Sidney Powell, and Georgia bail bondsman Scott Hall, offered many previously undisclosed details about the effort by Trump and his allies to reverse his defeat.

Hawaii – Hawaii Ethics Panel to Push for More Disclosure of Lobbyists

Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair | Published: 11/14/2023

Hawaii lawmakers in 2023 passed legislation that requires all state lawmakers to include in financial disclosures the names of lobbyists with whom they have a relationship. Now, the state Ethics Commission wants to revise the law so legislators who work for large employers and who know “or reasonably should know” who is on a lobbying list should also disclose those clients that meet the $5,000 threshold. The lobbying disclosure proposal was one of five tentatively approved by the commission for its legislative package for the 2024 legislative session.

Illinois – Brandon Johnson Wasn’t Supposed to Take Campaign Money from City Contractors, but He Did

Chicago Sun-Times – Robert Herguth and Tim Novak | Published: 11/9/2023

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson is not allowed to take campaign contributions from city contractors but has accepted them anyway. Christian Perry, Johnson’s political director, says taking the money was an “oversight” and it is being returned, about $46,500 in all. In some instances, it appears contractors were solicited for campaign cash by Johnson’s political fundraisers. His campaign aides thought it was all right to take money from city contractors as long as the amounts fell below a certain threshold. But the mayor was barred from taking any money from them after he was sworn in on May 15.

Illinois – Clout-Heavy Contractor Linked to Federal Investigations at City Hall and in the Suburbs

MSN – Jason Meisner, A.D. Quig, Sarah Freishtat, and Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 11/13/2023

James Bracken’s multifaceted businesses have garnered government contracts from across Cook County worth up to $250 million for demolition services, equipment rental, and materials. At the same time, Bracken and the businesses themselves have contributed nearly $375,000 over the past two decades to a wide array of local elected officials, including a half-dozen who have been charged or come under federal investigation. Now it is Bracken who finds himself embroiled in two separate federal criminal probes, both tied to his business enterprise.

Illinois – Ethics Board Finds Probable Cause Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin Wrongfully Fired 2 Whistleblowers

Yahoo News – Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 11/14/2023

Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin violated the ethics code by firing two top aides who alleged she repeatedly misused taxpayer resources and pressured public employees to help her political allies, according to a finding of probable cause by the city’s Board of Ethics. Over the coming months, Conyears-Ervin will have a chance to rebut the findings before the board issues a final ruling and potentially a fine.

Kentucky – Weddle’s Excess Giving to Beshear, Kentucky Democratic Party Under Investigation

Kentucky Lantern – Tom Loftus | Published: 11/10/2023

The Registry of Election Finance launched a civil investigation into the excess campaign contributions given by London Mayor Randall Weddle to the reelection campaign of Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party. The action marks the first evidence that any public agency is investigating the bundles of more than $300,000 in donations to Beshear and the party. Registry Executive Director John Steffen said Weddle and his wife “may have violated” the state law that prohibits a person from giving excess donations to a candidate or political party by giving in the names of other persons.

Maryland – Ex-Baltimore Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby Guilty in Federal Perjury Trial

MSN – Dan Morse (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2023

Baltimore’s former top prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, was convicted of two counts of perjury after she had been accused of lying about her finances to withdraw money from her city retirement account under a program designed to help people struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic. Prosecutors said she falsely claimed to suffer from financial hardships to access $90,000 from retirement funds she later used to buy two homes in Florida. Mosby has denied wrongdoing, saying she did not defraud anyone.

Michigan – Judge Allows Trump on Michigan Primary Ballot as Critics Try to Bar Him

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 11/14/2023

A judge ruled Donald Trump can appear on the primary ballot in Michigan, delivering the latest setback to those who contend Trump sparked an insurrection on January 6, 2021, and is barred from running for president again as a result. State Judge James Robert Redford wrote that courts do not have the authority to determine whether someone is eligible to run for office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Redford also ruled Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson does not have the authority under state law to remove candidates from the ballot based on that provision.

Missouri – Rod Jetton’s Political Career Ended in Scandal. Now He’s Dean Plocher’s Chief of Staff

Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 11/9/2023

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher’s new chief of staff is a former legislative leader whose political career was upended more than a decade ago by a federal bribery investigation and allegations of sexual assault. He is joining Plocher’s office as the speaker faces an ethics committee inquiry into allegations of misconduct and calls for him to resign from fellow Republicans.

Missouri – Missouri AG Bailey’s Office Quietly Removed ‘Public Corruption’ Complaint Form on Website

Yahoo News – Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 11/16/2023

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office scrubbed from its website an online form that allowed residents to file complaints of public corruption against elected officials. An archive from May shows that the online form allowed users to issue complaints of criminal acts by public officials so long as the local police agency had a conflict-of-interest in investigating the matter. The decision has come under scrutiny in the wake of a series of scandals surrounding House Speaker Dean Plocher, who faces calls to resign after reports surfaced that he received government reimbursements for expenses paid for by his campaign.

Nebraska – A Boom of Ballot Initiatives Is Reshaping This State’s Democracy

MSN – Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) | Published: 11/15/2023

Today, Congress is so divided and ideologically polarized that it struggles to execute its most basic responsibilities. State Legislatures are often so dominated by a single party that the majority can push through its agenda with little regard for what most voters might prefer. In the two dozen states that allow citizen-sponsored referendums, Democrats and Republicans are turning to the ballot box to make law and in many cases overrule their elected officials. The initiatives have rolled across the country in waves in recent decades.

New Hampshire – New Hampshire Announces First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary, Defying DNC

MSN – Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 11/15/2023

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan set his state’s presidential primary for January 23, formalizing its defiance of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) reworked primary calendar, which aims to give voters in more racially diverse states an early voice in the nominating process. The DNC approved a plan this year to shuffle the order in which states would appear in its 2024 primary calendar. The plan calls for South Carolina to be the first primary state, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later, then Michigan.

New York – FBI Seized Phones, iPad from New York Mayor Eric Adams in Escalation of Fundraising Investigation

ABC News – Jake Offenhartz (Associated Press) | Published: 11/10/2023

FBI agents seized phones and an iPad from New York City Mayor Eric Adams as part of an investigation into political fundraising during his 2021 campaign. The seizures happened as Adams was leaving a public event in Manhattan. A search warrant indicated authorities are examining whether the Adams campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive donations from foreign sources, funneled through straw donors. The warrant also requested information about Adams’ use of the city’s public campaign finance program.

New York – Adams’ Compliance Lawyer Has Lobbied City Hall While Doing Work for His Campaign

MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 11/10/2023

Vito Pitta, New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ longtime campaign compliance lawyer, has been getting paid by the campaign for consulting and legal services at the same time as his government relations firm has lobbied the mayor’s administration on behalf of a variety of private interests. There are no laws or regulations prohibiting the type of dual role Pitta has played but the situation raised conflict-of-interest concerns. Pitta is not the only Adams campaign adviser who has lobbied his administration in conjunction with working for him in a political capacity.

New York – New York’s Top Court Hears Democratic Attempt to Draw New Congressional Maps

Yahoo News – Bill Mahoney (Politico) | Published: 11/15/2023

New York’s top court heard oral arguments in a case that will determine whether the Democratic-dominated state Legislature will have another chance to draw maps for its 26-member congressional delegation. A Democratic victory in the Court of Appeals would let legislators make the lines for as many as seven Republican-held seats in New York friendlier to Democrats. The stakes are high: Democrats would have kept a majority in Congress in 2022 had they won five additional races.

Pennsylvania – Female Pa. Senators Want to Combat Sexual Harassment in Harrisburg, Following Scandal Involving a Top Aide to Gov. Josh Shapiro

MSN – Gillian McGoldrick (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 11/14/2023

A bipartisan group of female state senators unveiled a package of legislation aimed at combatting sexual harassment at the Pennsylvania Capitol, following several high-profile allegations made against top officials this year, including state representative and a top aide to the governor. But the bills will not address some of the biggest priorities among victim advocates.

Pennsylvania – How a Lobbyist for Investment Contractors Ended Up Heading the Pa. Pension Board That Hires Them

MSN – Joseph DiStefano (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 11/15/2023

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro recently named Gregory Thall, a longtime government official who now works as a lobbyist, as chairperson of the $35 billion-asset State Employees Retirement System (SERS) pension plan. As a lobbyist for GSL Public Strategies Group, Thall disclosed a long list of the firm’s clients he registered to represent. They include Lubert-Adler Partners, which is one of more than 100 private money managers paid to invest public funds for SERS.

South Dakota – South Dakota Lawmakers Must List All Conflicts of Interest Ahead of Supreme Court Opinion

MSN – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 11/14/2023

South Dakota lawmakers will receive a letter asking them to list all possible conflicts-of-interest when it comes to their jobs outside of being legislators. Those responses will then be used in a brief that the South Dakota Supreme Court will examine while they make a decision regarding the broad nature of a constitutional provision banning lawmakers from having a either a direct or indirect conflict in state contracts during their terms and up to a year after they exit office.

West Virginia – Senate Democrat Joe Manchin Says He Will Not Seek Reelection

MSN – Liz Goodwin, Amy Wang, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 11/9/2023

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced he would not seek reelection in 2024, setting back Democrats’ plans to hold onto their majority in 2024 and raising their fears he could get involved in the presidential race as a third-party candidate. Manchin had defied political gravity by holding onto his seat in the deeply red state of West Virginia but would have faced long odds against either Gov. Jim Justice or Rep. Alex Mooney, who are running in the Republican primary next year.

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