News You Can Use Digest - November 19, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

November 19, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 19, 2021


Appeals Court Temporarily Bars Release of Trump White House Records to House Jan. 6 Committee
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 11/11/2021

A federal appeals court blocked the imminent release of records of former President Trump’s White House calls and activities related to the January 6 Capitol attack after a lower court found President Biden can waive his predecessor’s claim to executive privilege. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a temporary injunction while it considers Trump’s request to hold off any release pending appeal, and fast-tracked oral arguments for a hearing November 30.

House Censures Rep. Gosar for Violent Video in Rare Rebuke
Kansas City Star – Kevin Freking and Brian Slodysko (Associated Press) | Published: 11/17/2021

The U.S. House voted to censure Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for posting of an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword, an extraordinary rebuke that highlighted the political strains testing Washington and the country. Calling the video a clear threat to a lawmaker’s life, Democrats argued Gosar’s conduct would not be tolerated in any other workplace and should not be in Congress. The vote to censure Gosar and strip him of his committee assignments was approved almost entirely along party lines.

How a Cure for Gerrymandering Left U.S. Politics Ailing in New Ways
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein | Published: 11/17/2021

Partisan gerrymandering is as old as the republic, but good-government experts thought they had hit on a solution with independent commissions, advisory groups, and outside panels. Taking the map-drawing process out of the hands of lawmakers under pressure to win elections, the thinking went, would make American democracy more fair. But in some states, commissions with poorly designed structures have fallen victim to political divisions, leading the process to be handed to courts. In others, the panels’ authority has been subverted by state lawmakers, who have either forced the commissioners to draft new maps or chosen to make their own.

Left-Wing Midwest Media Outlet Launching with Backing from Dem Donor
MSN – Elena Schneider (Politico) | Published: 11/17/2021

A major Democratic donor is funding a new media outlet aimed at covering state and local races in the Midwest as the latest entrant into the growing partisan-media landscape. It is part of a recent trend of explicitly Democratic-backed digital news projects that have popped up in the last several years, as candidates and movements across the political spectrum try to speak directly to supporters, drive viral attention, and shape the media ecosystem by creating their own content instead of working through legacy outlets.

Liberal ‘Dark-Money’ Behemoth Funneled More than $400M in 2020
MSN – Scott Bland (Politico) | Published: 11/17/2021

A liberal group spent $410 million in 2020, aiding Democratic efforts to unseat then-President Trump and win back control of the U.S. Senate. The Sixteen Thirty Fund financed attack ads and funded massive get-out-the-vote and issue advocacy campaigns amid the coronavirus pandemic. It exploded in size during the Trump administration, going from tens of millions of dollars per year to raising and spending hundreds of millions. Its 2020 fundraising and spending illustrates the extent to which the left embraced the use of “dark money” to fight for its causes in recent years.

‘QAnon Shaman’ Jacob Chansley Is Sentenced to 41 Months in Prison
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 11/17/2021

Jacob Chansley, whose shirtless image on the U.S. Senate rostrum and menacing note to Vice President Mike Pence came to symbolize the January 6 assault on the Capitol, was sentenced to 41 months in prison, matching the harshest sentence handed down yet in the prosecution effort. U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth acknowledged Chansley had not engaged in physical violence but said his role as a leader among those who went into the Senate chamber and disrupted the electoral vote tally compelled a serious prison sentence.

Sen. Braun’s Campaign Accused by FEC of Breaking Campaign Finance Laws
MSN – Kaitlin Lange (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 11/11/2021

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun’s 2018 campaign has been accused of accepting millions of dollars of potentially improper loans in an FEC memorandum and draft audit. Braun’s campaign argues in all the loans and contributions were legal. The FEC auditors were concerned because it appeared Braun accepted bank loans that did not require collateral. The auditors also found two checks worth $1.5 million from Meyer Distributing, a corporation Braun founded, that they say were incorrectly reported as a loan, according to the report.

Steve Bannon Indicted After Refusal to Comply with Jan. 6 Committee Subpoena
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Jacqueline Alemany, and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 11/12/2021

Former White House adviser Stephen Bannon was charged with two counts of contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He was indicted by a grand jury in Washington, D.C., a rare move by the Justice Department to escalate the consequences of a dispute involving Congress. Court records indicate only three such cases have been filed since 1990. The charges against Bannon each carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail and may serve as a warning to others seeking to avoid or defy the select committee.

The FEC Relies on Candidates’ ‘Good Faith’ When It Comes to Foreign Donations. But the Agency’s Inspector General Says That’s ‘Insufficient Oversight’ and Poses a ‘National Security Risk.’
Yahoo News – Bryan Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 11/10/2021

A report by the FEC’s internal watchdog found the agency’s current system of handling potential foreign contributions by largely relying on candidates and political action committees to certify that they haven’t received foreign money “poses a national security risk and provides insufficient oversight of possible illegal foreign donations.” The report also lists the ongoing growth in campaign spending, remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, issues with senior leadership staffing, and cybersecurity to be among the biggest challenges the FEC faces.

This Was Supposed to Be a Big Year for Hill Pay. Staffers Aren’t Holding Their Breath
MSN – Chris Ciofi (Roll Call) | Published: 11/18/2021

For a while it seemed as if this would be the year that Congress tackled its long-standing staff retention issues, but aides say that hope is waning. The prospect of higher pay soared this summer after House leadership decoupled member and staffer salary caps, and as appropriators proposed a 20 percent increase in the money members can spend on their offices and payroll. But as fall turns to winter, the two parties remain far apart on how to fund the government for fiscal 2022 beyond a series of stopgaps.

UK Govt Vows to Toughen Rules for Lawmakers After Ethics Row
Yahoo News – Jill Lawless (Associated Press) | Published: 11/16/2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed a ban on lawmakers acting as “paid consultants” and promised to tighten ethics rules in response to scandals over lobbying and outside jobs that have tarnished politics in the United Kingdom. Johnson said lawmakers should be investigated if they were “neglecting their duties to their constituents and prioritizing outside interests,” and should be banned from acting as “paid political consultants or lobbyists.” He promised to seek cross-party support for changes to the House of Commons’ code of conduct.

Why Facebook Won’t Let You Control Your Own News Feed
Yahoo News – Will Oremus (Washington Post) | Published: 11/13/2021

In at least two experiments, Facebook explored what happens when it turns off its news feed ranking system, the software that decides for each user which posts they see and in what order. Both tests appear to have taught the researchers that users are better off with Facebook’s software calling the shots. In testimony to Congress, whistleblower Frances Haugen pointed to the algorithm as central to the social network’s problems, arguing it amplifies and rewards hateful, divisive, misleading, and sometimes false content by putting it at the top of users’ feeds.

Why GOP Leaders Can’t Keep Paul Gosar in Line
Mother Jones – Russ Choma | Published: 11/17/2021

While there were always party factions or caucuses pursuing their own interests, party leadership in Congress expected members to cooperate. Unnecessary controversy and self-serving provocations were not in the playbook. A key motivator was campaign finance. To secure reelection, members almost always needed help from party leaders who hold the purse strings in the House, those at the helm of the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The present scandal featuring Rep. Paul Gosar shows how the old methods of financial control no longer work.

Why Governors Keep Snubbing the Senate
Yahoo News – Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett (Politico) | Published: 11/15/2021

Republicans could not convince high-profile GOP governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont to run for the U.S. Senate and help them win back the majority in 2022. Two more GOP governors, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Larry Hogan of Maryland, have also resisted running in those states’ Senate races next year. It is the latest chapter in congressional leaders’ bipartisan struggle to lobby popular candidates to come to Washington. That is no shock to those who have made the leap from executive to legislator. Coming to Washington these days just does not hold much appeal.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama State: Former House speaker tried to influence prison legislation from prison
Alabama Political Reporter – Josh Moon | Published: 11/15/2021

Even from prison, former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who is serving time after being convicted of several felonies related to ethical violations, was attempting to use his remaining political power to coerce lawmakers to insert language into a recently passed prison bill that would have allowed him to go free. The filing from the state attorney general’s office, which is an objection to Hubbard’s request for an early release, cites more than 600 personal phone calls the state monitored between Hubbard and various associates, and dozens of emails.

California Emails Show LA Commissioner Used Influence to Help Win $3 Million COVID-19 Contract, Union Alleges
Los Angeles Daily News – Scott Schwebke (Orange County Register) | Published: 11/14/2021

An embattled Los Angeles fire and police pensions commissioner accused of ethics violations by a law enforcement union over a $3 million contract to test unvaccinated city employees for COVID-19 began lobbying Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office nearly a year ago on behalf of his company, raising questions from critics about potential influence peddling, emails show. The Los Angeles Police Protective League is suing the city and demanding an investigation, alleging it failed to disclose that testing contractor PPS Health is partly owned by Dr. Pedram Salimpour, who was reappointed by Garcetti to the pension commission in 2017.

California Lobbyists Weren’t Eligible for PPP Money, but California Firms Got Millions
San Diego Daily Tribune – Alexei Koseff (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 11/12/2021

Dozens of California lobbying firms received millions of dollars in emergency federal assistance meant for small businesses to ride out the coronavirus pandemic, though some were ineligible for the program. The low-interest Paycheck Protection Program loans were subject to long-standing eligibility requirements that included a prohibition on lending to firms “primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities,” meaning they derived more than half of their revenue from that business.

Colorado FBI Raids Home of Lauren Boebert’s Ex-Campaign Manager in Colorado Election Tampering Probe
Salon – Igor Derysh | Published: 11/16/2021

The FBI raided the home of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and three others in an investigation into a voting system security breach. Peters was accused by state officials in August of helping to leak voting system passwords to a right-wing blog. The FBI also searched the home of Sherronna Bishop, who served as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s campaign manager. Bishop has been one of Peters’ most prominent allies in stoking unfounded allegations of voting machine problems in the election and hinted at a rally she was privy to unreleased data from Mesa County.

Idaho Rep. Priscilla Giddings Censured, Removed from Legislative Committee by Idaho House
Idaho Statesman – Hayat Norimine | Published: 11/15/2021

Idaho Rep. Priscilla Giddings will be removed from a legislative committee over her actions when a sexual assault allegation came forward against a former lawmaker. House members vote to censure Giddings after she shared a far-right outlet’s article that identified a 19-year-old legislative intern who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape. Giddings will be removed from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which oversees laws around state employees.

Illinois Businessman Pleads Guilty to Bribing Ex-State Sen. Martin Sandoval for Help with IDOT Land Sale
Yahoo News – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 11/17/2021

Businessperson Vahooman Mirkhaef pleaded guilty to federal charges alleging he paid at least $15,000 in bribes to then-Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval to secure the purchase of state-owned property near his company. Mirkhaef admitted he also provided cash and other benefits over a three-year period to another elected official, identified only as “Public Official A,” in return for the official “using his position to attempt to benefit and not interfere with the operation” of Mirkhaef’s business.

Illinois Director Fired After Improper Law Certificate Given to Donor
Yahoo News – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 11/17/2021

The director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board was fired this fall after an investigation found he improperly issued a law enforcement certificate to an unqualified local philanthropist who is also the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. The Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Governor determined Brent Fischer, executive director of the standards board since 2015, issued the certificate to Howard Buffett, who had served a 14-month appointment as Macon County sheriff and in 2016 donated land and $15 million for a law enforcement training academy.

Illinois Ethics Board Says Aldermen Who Violate Code of Conduct Should Face Harsher Punishments as Gardiner Retaliation Claims Investigated
Book Club Chicago – Ariel Parrella-Aureli and Alex Nitkin (The Daily Line) | Published: 11/16/2021

The Chicago Board of Ethics is calling for harsher punishments for city council members who violate the council’s code of conduct after Ald. Jim Gardiner allegedly retaliated against constituents who criticized him. The board said it wants the city council to create an ordinance that would make the body’s code of conduct enforceable by law, not just “aspirational” as it is currently. This means officials caught flouting campaign finance rules or abusing their power in another way would be subject to sanctions such as fines, suspension, and termination.

Illinois Pritzker Signs Law Banning Dark Money, Out-of-State Contributions in Judicial Campaigns
NPR Illinois – Hannah Meisel | Published: 11/15/2021

A new law in Illinois aims to ban out-of-state contributions and “dark money” in judicial campaigns by requiring all candidates to disclose the sources of their contributions. Gov. JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 536, which makes other changes to the way elections are conducted. Under the bill, no judicial campaign committee is allowed to accept contributions from any out-of-state source or any person or entity that does not disclose the identity of those making the donation, except for contributions that are below the threshold for itemizing. It also raises the threshold for itemizing contributions to $1,000.

Illinois State’s Top Fiscal Watchdog Cleared After Six-Year Battle Over Campaign Finance Violations Finally Resolved – for Now
NPR Illinois – Hannah Meisel | Published: 11/16/2021

The State Board of Elections voted unanimously to end years-long dispute over campaign finance violations committed by Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s campaign committee before he became the state’s top fiscal watchdog. The board ruled Mautino and his now-defunct campaign committee did not knowingly violate campaign finance law during his two-decade tenure in the Illinois House. “Knowingly” was the key word the Illinois Supreme Court asked the board to concentrate on as it once again considered the what is left in a complaint first filed with the board nearly six years ago.

Iowa Audit: Governor improperly used COVID funds for salaries
Yahoo News – David Pitt (Washington Post) | Published: 11/15/2021

A state audit on government spending accused Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds of using nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay salaries for 21 staff members for three months last year and concealing the spending by passing it through the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Reynolds has said the federal coronavirus relief law allowed salaries to be paid for workers whose job requirements were significantly changed due to the pandemic.

Maryland Baltimore County Executive Proposes Public Campaign Finance Legislation
MSN – Taylor DeVille (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 11/15/2021

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced a bill creating public financing that candidates for the county council and county executive could start using in 2026. The legislation would require candidates for council and county executive to meet different qualifying thresholds for eligibility. For qualifying candidates, the county would match every dollar on a sliding scale. The legislation would also establish a Fair Election Fund Commission.

Massachusetts After 600 Days, the Massachusetts State House Remains Closed to the Public. It Appears to Be the Only State Capitol Still Shut on This Continent
Boston Globe – Matt Stoudt | Published: 11/14/2021

Steeped in history, the Massachusetts statehouse stands alone for many reasons among the country’s state Capitols: Its iconic dome was constructed with copper from Paul Revere’s foundry and Samuel Adams laid its cornerstone. The seat of the state’s executive and legislative branches now has another: The statehouse appears to be the only state Capitol on the continent where the public remains barred from entering. The pandemic-induced closure has now stretched past 600 days, and legislative leaders in charge of the building say they are juggling how to safely reopen a building that typically receives some 100,000 visitors each year.

Michigan Retired Detroit Police Officer Involved in Vehicle Auctions Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes
Yahoo News – Joe Guillen (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 11/17/2021

Alonzo Jones, a retired Detroit police officer who ran the department’s vehicle auctions for more than 10 years, pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting $3,200 in bribes. The bribe payments came from a confidential FBI source involving in the towing industry and an undercover agent. In exchange for the money, Jones falsified paperwork that transferred ownership of abandoned vehicles without a public auction as required by law to the confidential source and the undercover agent.

Minnesota Senate GOP Gets OK to Create Private Club for Legislators, Lobbyists During Session
Minnesota Reformer – Ricardo Lopez | Published: 11/12/2021

State Senate Republicans received approval from the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board to create a private meeting space for legislators and lobbyists and other dues-paying members, raising concerns about transparency and undue influence and access. The Senate Victory Fund, the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, sought the opinion on its proposal to lease meeting space accessible to lawmakers and members who pay a fee.

Missouri Parson PAC Hit with Second Fine from Missouri Ethics Regulators
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 11/17/2021

The campaign fund that raises money to push Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s agenda illegally accepted a significant contribution from an out-of-state group last year. The Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) said the Uniting Missouri PAC received a $150,000 contribution in October 2020 from a PAC associated with the Republican Attorney Generals Association. The contribution was deemed illegal because the attorney general association’s PAC was not registered with the MEC.

New York AG Releases Interview Transcripts in Cuomo Harassment Probe
ABC News – Michael Hill, Jennifer Peltz, and Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 11/11/2021

Over an 11-hour interview with investigators last July, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defiantly denied allegations he sexually harassed women and sparred with the lawyers questioning him, accusing one of being out to get him, according to a transcript. State Attorney General Letitia James made public hundreds of pages of transcripts of interviews conducted by two independent lawyers, hired by her office, during their monthslong probe of sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo.

New York Cuomo’s Book Approval Rescinded by Ethics Panel, Jeopardizing Millions
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 11/16/2021

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) voted to rescind approval of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book deal, paving the way for commissioners to potentially claw back millions of dollars in proceeds paid to the ex-governor. In July 2020, JCOPE Deputy Counsel Martin Levine approved Cuomo’s request to write the book about his early handling of the pandemic. But it has since emerged that Cuomo used government staff to help edit and produce the book, something his government attorney at the time, Judith Mogul, had explicitly stated would not occur as she sought the staff’s approval that summer.

New York How Small-Dollar Public Financing Helped NYC Elect Its Most Diverse City Council Ever
The City – Ese Olumhense | Published: 11/16/2021

Ninety-seven percent of the record-breaking 39 women and Black, Latino, and Asian New Yorkers elected to the city council in November raised money through the public financing program, which enables participating candidates to have their small-dollar donations matched eight-to-one with public money, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center. The “robust” public matching funds program is partially responsible for the dramatic shift in representation in the incoming council, the report’s authors said. The new council will be the most racially diverse it has ever been, and women are expected to increase their representation to at least 59 percent.

New York State Ethics Panel Issues Fines to Lobbyists in Secret
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 11/15/2021

The secrecy surrounding the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) issuing fines to lobbyists for late reports makes it difficult to know whether the agency is enforcing the rules evenhandedly, a relevant question for an entity often accused of favoring the administration of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. JCOPE has assessed $250,000 in fees this year from lobbyists who have missed deadlines to disclose activities before state government. But officials will say little else about the program, including which lobbyists have faced penalties, why they have been fined, or why their staff chooses to forgive certain fines.

Ohio Who Knew About Bribes Paid During FirstEnergy Solutions’ Bankruptcy and House Bill 6 Bailout Campaign?
Energy and Policy Institute – Dave Anderson | Published: 11/16/2021

FirstEnergy Solutions’ (FES) management, board, and some top consultants for the utility and its creditors knew about plans to spend over $40 million on political contributions during the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Federal prosecutors said the money was part of a nearly $60 million bribery scheme at the Ohio Capitol. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Alan Koschik recently granted final approval for the $68 million in fees and expenses that FES accumulated with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Akin Gump served as co-counsel to FES during the company’s restructuring and lobbied for bailout proposals on behalf of the utility.

Pennsylvania John Dougherty and Bobby Henon Convicted of Conspiracy in Federal Corruption Trial
WHYY – Meir Rinde | Published: 11/15/2021

A powerful Philadelphia labor leader and a city council member were found guilty of conspiracy charges in a corruption trial. Prosecutors said John Dougherty kept Bobby Henon, a union electrician-turned-Philadelphia City Council member, on the payroll to help his union keep a tight grip on construction jobs. Dougherty still faces at least one more federal trial based on charges in the sweeping 2019 indictment. U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams called the verdict “a strong message to the political power players of this city … that the citizens of Philadelphia will not tolerate public corruption as business as usual.”

Pennsylvania New Limits Would Curtail Lobbyist Perks for Pa. Lawmakers, but One Leader Could Stand in the Way
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Angela Couloumbis (Spotlight PA) | Published: 11/11/2021

Pennsylvania lawmakers and other elected officials have been able to pocket almost anything sent their way by lobbyists, special interests, and others with a stake in government. Yet bills to end a system criticized as the “Wild West” for influence peddling have died with little or no debate. A coalition of Republican leaders has publicly backed placing limits on gifts to elected officials and public employees, though one key leader has so far refused to endorse the change, a potentially fatal roadblock.

South Dakota South Dakota Legislature Moves for Subpoenas on Noem Meeting
MSN – Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 11/15/2021

South Dakota lawmakers moved to subpoena a document and a former state employee at the center of questions about whether Gov. Kristi Noem used her influence to aid her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license. The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee is pressing for details about a meeting the governor called last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and key decision-makers in a government agency that had moved days earlier to deny Peters’ application for an upgrade to her appraiser certification.

Tennessee Tennessee GOP Primary Fee Creates Ethical Dilemma for Judge Candidates
Yahoo News – Andy Sher (Chattanooga Times Free Press) | Published: 11/18/2021

The Tennessee Republican Party’s approval of a plan to require that candidates for federal, state, and county elected offices pay a fee to run in a GOP primary is generating a case of ethical, as well as political, heartburn for state judges and judicial candidates. The legal angst stems from a recent opinion from the state’s judicial ethics committee about the issue. The panel stated in an advisory opinion that Tennessee’s Rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct bar the practice of paying the fee.

Washington DC Trayon White Files Paperwork for D.C. Mayoral Bid Amid Campaign Finance Inquiry
MSN – Micahel Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 11/12/2021

District of Columbia Council member Trayon White Sr. officially filed paperwork for his 2022 mayoral campaign about one month after he first announced via Instagram he was running. The delay is now the subject of an “internal inquiry” by the Office of Campaign Finance to determine whether White may have improperly engaged in campaign activities without having filed paperwork. City law states individuals must register as a candidate within five days of accepting a contribution or making any campaign-related expenditures.

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