News You Can Use Digest - November 3, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

November 3, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 3, 2023


Rep. George Santos Survives Effort to Expel Him from the House. But He Still Faces an Ethics Report

ABC News – Kevin Freking and Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 11/1/2023

U.S. Rep. George Santos survived a vote to expel him from the House as most Republicans and 31 Democrats opted to withhold punishment while both his criminal trial and a House ethics committee investigation proceed. The effort to expel Santos was led by his fellow New York Republicans, who are anxious to distance themselves from a colleague infamous for fabricating his life story and accused of stealing from donors, lying to Congress, and receiving unemployment benefits he did not deserve.

Prosecutors Withdraw Second Subpoena in Trump Fund-Raising Inquiry

DNyuz – Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 10/26/2023

Federal prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking records from former President Trump’s 2020 campaign as part of their investigation into whether Trump’s political and fundraising operations committed any crimes as he sought to stay in power after he lost the election. The decision this week by special counsel Jack Smith to effectively kill the subpoena to the Trump campaign came on the heels of the withdrawal of a similar subpoena to Save America, the PAC that was formed by Trump’s aides shortly after he lost the race in 2020.

Supreme Court Skeptical of Lawyer’s Claim to Phrase ‘Trump Too Small’

MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 11/1/2023

Supreme Court justices across the ideological divide seemed skeptical that a California lawyer has a free speech right to trademark the double-entendre phrase “Trump Too Small” for use on T-shirts criticizing former President Trump. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts opined, ruling for Trump critic Steve Elster could make it harder for others to create their own takes about the man running to reclaim his old job.

Trump’s Classified Documents Case Schedule May Be Delayed, Judge Cannon Says

MSN – Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 11/1/2023

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s indictment for allegedly mishandling national security secrets suggested she might push back the planned trial timeline, as courts wrestle with the growing complexity of juggling four separate criminal cases and an ongoing civil trial against the former president. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon listened to prosecutors argue at a hearing for keeping the schedule she set earlier this year, which includes a trial in May 2024. Lawyers for Trump insisted they needed more time to prepare.

This Conservative Appeals Court’s Rulings Are Testing the Supreme Court

MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 10/26/2023

With a dozen judges nominated by Republican presidents, and only four by Democrats, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is the favored launchpad for right-leaning politicians and organizations seeking groundbreaking judicial decisions restricting abortion, limiting gun laws, and thwarting the ambitions of the Biden administration. The Fifth Circuit’s work is drawing more U.S. Supreme Court review than that of any other among the dozen regional appeals courts, which operate one step below the high court. In the new term, the justices already have said they will review eight decisions from the New Orleans-based court.

Hearings Begin as Trump Critics Attempt to Kick Him Off Ballots

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 10/27/2023

Judges are weighing an unprecedented and historic question: is former President Trump eligible to run for office again given his alleged role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol? A week-long hearing in Denver will explore whether January 6 qualified as an insurrection, which could bar Trump from the ballot in Colorado. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether an obscure part of the Constitution might keep Trump off the ballot there. In coming weeks, courts around the country might hold similar proceedings.

Judge Reimposes Restrictions on Trump’s Speech in Jan. 6 Case

MSN – Rachel Weiner and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 10/29/2023

A federal judge reimposed limits on Donald Trump’s public statements in advance of his trial on charges of conspiring to subvert the results of the 2020 election. U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan put back in place an order she had lifted nine days earlier to give Trump and prosecutors more time to argue whether the restrictions were unconstitutional, as attorneys for the former president had claimed. Trump can now ask a higher court for an emergency stay pending appeal, but in the meantime, he is bound by Chutkan’s limits.

Mike Pence Suspends His Struggling 2024 Campaign

MSN – Maeve Reston and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 10/28/2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence suspended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, facing the reality there was little appetite for his candidacy among the legions of Republican voters who remain loyal to Donald Trump and viewed Pence as a traitor because he refused to follow Trump’s demands to overturn the 2020 election results. Pence’s years-long descent from first in line for the presidency to an also-ran reached a conclusion at a high-profile summit which brought together some of the most powerful Republican donors in one room.

News on TikTok and Instagram Is Booming, Signaling a New Era

MSN – Taylor Lorenz (Washington Post) | Published: 10/31/2023

News consumption hit a tipping point around the globe during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, with more people turning to social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram than to websites maintained by traditional news outlets, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. One in five adults under 24 use TikTok as a source for news. Britain’s Office of Communications said young adults in the United Kingdom now spend more time watching TikTok than broadcast media. As independent online producers of news programming rose to prominence, the ramifications for society are still coming into focus.

Democrats Plan to Subpoena Wealthy Benefactors of Supreme Court Justices

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 10/30/2023

Senate Democrats announced plans to vote to subpoena a pair of wealthy conservatives and a judicial activist who have underwritten or organized lavish travel for some U.S. Supreme Court justices, a move that adds to the pressure on the court to strengthen its ethics policies. The Judiciary Committee leaders will vote to authorize subpoenas for information from billionaire Harlan Crow, a close friend and benefactor of Justice Clarence Thomas, and from Leonard Leo, the conservative judicial activist.

High Court Struggles on Whether Officials May Block Social Media Critics

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 10/31/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court struggled to agree on how to determine when public officials can block critics from their private social media accounts, reviewing two cases that will have broad implications for citizen interactions with politicians online. All nine justices seemed to acknowledge the challenge and importance of defining when government employees are acting in an official capacity online, and therefore bound by First Amendment restrictions on censorship; and when they are acting as private citizens, with their own individual free speech rights.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama – Alabama Legislators Study Past Ethics Proposals Ahead of Planned Revision Bill

Alabama Reflector – Ralph Chapoco | Published: 10/26/2023

Members of the House Ethics and Finance Committee discussed efforts since 2010 to amend Alabama’s ethics law. The gathering was the third in a series of “work meetings” providing legislators planning to draft legislation to update the existing law after a report released in 2019 recommending changes that included tightening language in the state’s ethics code and offering graduated penalties for specific violations.

Alabama – Local Journalists Arrested in Small Alabama Town for Grand Jury Story

MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 11/1/2023

A newspaper publisher and a reporter were arrested for publishing an article that officials said was based on confidential grand-jury evidence, a move that press-freedom advocates are characterizing as an unconstitutional attack on the news media. Publisher Sherry Digmon and reporter Don Fletcher of the Atmore News in Alabama were arrested after a story by Fletcher disclosed details of an investigation into the local school board’s payments to seven former school-system employees.

Arizona – Complaint Alleges GOP Lawmaker Illegally Used Campaign Cash to Attend J6

Arizona Mirror – Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Published: 10/30/2023

An Arizona legislator who was among the rioting crowds at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, is facing a campaign finance complaint alleging he illegally used cash from a failed re-election bid to attend the insurrection, including airfare and a hotel stay. On January 5, Kern reported an expenditure for an airline ticket. On January 11, Kern reported an expenditure of $436.74 for travel and lodging at a Hyatt hotel.

Arizona – Arizona Prosecutors Ask About 2020 Pressure Campaign by Trump Allies

MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 10/27/2023

The Arizona attorney general’s investigation into the coordinated attempt to overturn the 2020 election results by creating and sending documents to the federal government falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner is also zeroing in on the pressure placed on local officials by the former president’s key allies to help avert his loss. The investigation underscores the dramatically different approach that prosecutors from opposing parties have taken when weighing post-2020 activities.

California – Survey Says Residents Want More Information About Who’s Lobbying City Officials

Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 10/26/2023

Most respondents to a city survey about proposed changes to Long Beach’s lobbying rules said city officials should have to proactively disclose meetings with lobbyists, something they are not currently required to do. Those disclosures, respondents said, should be more frequent and robust than the law currently requires. The Long Beach Ethics Commission asked for the feedback as it is crafting changes to the city’s lobbying disclosure law. A new draft of the changes could be out as soon as November.

California – Free Speech Group Plans to Appeal S.F. Campaign Finance Law to U.S. Supreme Court

MSN – Bob Egelko (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 10/28/2023

San Francisco’s law requiring political ads to identify their top financial donors survived another challenge in federal appeals court, but nine conservative judges argued in dissent the law violates free speech. An attorney for opponents of the measure says he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The law went beyond disclosure mandates in state law by requiring committees financing local campaign advertisements to identify in the ads their top two donors of $5,000 or more.

California – Facing Strong Opposition, Bill Gore Withdraws from Consideration for San Diego Ethics Board

MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 10/30/2023

More than a month after being nominated by Mayor Todd Gloria to serve on the San Diego Ethics Commission, former Sheriff Bill Gore has withdrawn his nomination in the face of overwhelming opposition. Gloria’s nomination generated immediate backlash from criminal justice reform advocates and family members of people who died in San Diego County jails in recent years. According to sheriff’s department records, more than 170 people died in county jails on Gore’s watch since he was first appointed sheriff in 2009.

Florida – Florida Fights a Ruling That Halts Its Lobbying Restriction

WMNF – Jim Saunders (News Service of Florida) | Published: 10/26/2023

Pointing to securing the “public trust,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked a federal appeals court to overturn a decision that blocked part of a 2018 state constitutional amendment imposing new restrictions on lobbying. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom issued a permanent injunction against a restriction on state and local officials lobbying other government bodies while in office. Bloom said the constraint violated First Amendment rights.

Florida – No Ethics Charges for Ivey Over Election Scandal After Candidates Decline to Give Testimony

Yahoo News – Eric Rogers (Florida Today) | Published: 10/30/2023

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey will not face ethics charges related to allegations of interference in the 2022 elections, after the candidates who came forward declined to talk to state investigators, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics. Ivey admitted making offers to the candidates in an interview with investigators but denied it was meant to sway their decisions to run, the allegation at the heart of the ethics complaint.

Georgia – Georgia’s Congressional Map Violates Voting Rights Act, Court Finds

Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 10/26/2023

A federal court found Georgia’s congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act, the latest Southern state to have its map struck down for discriminating against Black voters. A judge ordered the state Legislature to redraw the lines by early December. The opinion said Black voters’ power had been diluted following extensive population growth in the state that has been disproportionately powered by Black residents. Gov. Brian calling the Legislature into special session on November 29 to handle redistricting.

Hawaii – Hawaii Ethics Commission Steps Up Training of Government Employees

Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair | Published: 10/20/2023

Since a new law requiring state legislators and employees to complete live or online ethics training classes every four years went into effect January 1, the number of people taking the course has increased as compared to 2021. That is due in part because an online, self-directed version of the course was introduced in 2020, when the pandemic forced many people to work from home. But there are still hundreds of workers that have not taken the training, either online or live via webinar or in-person classes.

Illinois – How the Massive Power Ed Burke Wielded Paved the Way for His Alleged Corruption

WBEZ – Fran Spielman (Chicago Sun-Times) and Mariah Woelfel | Published: 10/31/2023

As Chicago Ald. Ed Burke prepares to stand trial on sweeping corruption charges in a racketeering indictment, the path to this moment was paved in part by the enormous power he gained through “scratch my back” politics, including aldermanic prerogative. Also known as aldermanic privilege, the practice is an entrenched, off-the-books power that gives council members unquestioned say over a broad range of decisions – from zoning matters to parking permits. Despite efforts to curb it, that tradition continues to this day.

Maine – Maine Considers Closing Loophole That Allows Foreign Government Spending on Referendums

The Hill – David Sharp (Associated Press) | Published: 11/2/2023

Maine voters will decide whether to ban foreign influence in elections, many of them irked over the $22 million a Canadian utility spent to fight state referendums on a hydropower transmission project. Hydro Quebec, owned by the Canadian province, exploited an election law loophole to fight attempts to stop the project on which the utility stood to gain $10 billion. If voters grant their approval on November 7, Maine would be the 10th state to close the loophole in federal election law that bans foreign entities from spending on candidate elections, yet allows donations for local and state ballot measures, said Aaron McKean of the Campaign Legal Center.

Maryland – Potomac Edison Faces Maryland Audit After Admitting It Charged Customers for FirstEnergy’s Bribes and Lobbying

Energy and Policy – Dave Anderson | Published: 10/26/2023

Maryland utility regulators ordered a new audit of Potomac Edison after the FirstEnergy-owned utility admitted in a rate case that it owes nearly $1.7 million in refunds to Maryland customers it wrongly charged for bribes, lobbying, corporate sponsorships, advertising, and other expenses. The new audit will seek to ensure that Potomac Edison’s wrongful charges to customers in Maryland are fully accounted for and refunded.

Michigan – Financial Disclosure Bills Pass Michigan Senate with Limited Revisions

MSN – Simon Schuster (MLive) | Published: 11/2/2023

The Michigan Senate passed legislation laying out what state politicians must show the public in new personal financial disclosures, after slightly expanding the requirements amid criticism the bills leave too much in the dark. Elected officials and candidates in the legislative and executive branches of state government will have to list their sources of income, but not the amount, and list assets and liabilities under the bills. A sticking point remains the amount of information candidates or elected officials must list about family members.

Mississippi – Gov. Tate Reeves’ Top Political Donors Received $1.4 Billion in State Contracts from His Agencies

Mississippi Today – Julia James, Geoff Pender, Bobby Harrison, Taylor Vance, and Adam Ganucheau | Published: 10/31/2023

Of the 88 individual or corporate donors who have given Gov. Tate Reeves’ campaigns at least $50,000, Mississippi Today identified 15 donors whose companies received a total of $1.4 billion in state contracts or grants since he took office in 2020. The investigation reveals how private companies, whose executives routinely donate large sums to politicians, can rake in hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds while having the ear of powerful elected officials.

Missouri – Missouri House Ethics Committee Begins Inquiry into Personnel Moves by Dean Plocher

Missouri Independent – Rudi Keller | Published: 10/27/2023

The Missouri House Ethics Committee met behind closed doors to discuss a “personnel inquiry” in a meeting that had been widely expected to focus on beleaguered House Speaker Dean Plocher. The committee, which reviews complaints against House lawmakers, is scheduled to meet again to discuss the same inquiry on November 8. The meeting came as Plocher, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2024, is facing calls to resign after reports surfaced he received government reimbursements over several years for expenses also paid for by his campaign. He has started to pay back the money he improperly received.

New Jersey – Corruption, Backroom Deals, Local Politics Mire N.J.’s Legal Weed Rollout, Businesses Say

MSN – Jelani Gibson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 10/30/2023

New Jersey promised a fair and ethical cannabis industry in which mom-and-pop shops would thrive. The law crafted by state legislators allowed towns, with little oversight, to authorize who can sell the product legally. Cannabis entrepreneurs seeking a piece of the billion-dollar industry are saying they are being exposed to extortion and intimidation. Municipalities can set their own fees, licensing schemes, and preferences independent of state supervision in a way that exceeds virtually every other regulated industry including liquor licenses.

New Jersey – Head of NJ Elections Watchdog Retires After Surviving Murphy’s Ouster Attempt

MSN – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 11/1/2023

Jeff Brindle, longtime executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), officially retired, roughly a year after the Murphy administration sought to oust him from the position. Brindle filed two lawsuits this year against Gov. Phil Murphy, one alleging a conspiracy “to extort and force” his resignation and a second challenging the constitutionality of a controversial bill that overhauled ELEC. Deputy Director Joe Donohue will serve as acting executive director while the commission conducts a search for a replacement for Brindle.

New Jersey – How Menendez Tried and Failed to Place an Ally in a Key Federal Post

Yahoo News – Benjamin Weiser, Nicholas Fandos, and Tracy Tully (New York Times) | Published: 10/30/2023

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez went to great lengths to try to secure a friendly prosecutor in New Jersey’s top federal law enforcement position. Far from being routine politics, Menendez’s attempts to fill the position were part of a brazen scheme to sell his office for cash, gold bars, and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, a federal indictment says.

New York – Noncompete Campaign Raises Lobbying Questions

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 10/27/2023

A dispute over whether the actions by the Public Policy Institute of New York State, the nonprofit arm of the state’s Business Council, are considered lobbying raises questions on what the nonprofit must report, including whether it has to disclose its donors for a campaign concerning noncompete agreements that is valued at more than five times the charity’s typical spending in a year. The nonprofit’s spokesperson, James Freedland, said the institute is not seeking to influence elected officials, a statement that government watchdogs dispute.

New York – N.Y. Ethics Watchdog Revising 2024 Legislative Agenda

Spectrum News – Kate Lisa | Published: 11/1/2023

State ethics commissioners worked on fine-tuning their legislative agenda for 2024, setting sights on how New York lawmakers can change policy to best regulate lobbying and ethical behavior of elected officials when they return to Albany in January. Members of the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government held a public roundtable and discussed plans to press the Legislature to better regulate ethics training required for lobbyists, including a daily late fee for lobbyists and clients who fail to complete it in the required timeframe.

Oklahoma – Ryan Walters Reported $5,000 Campaign Donation a Year Late. It May Cost Him

MSN – Nolan Clay (Oklahoman) | Published: 11/1/2023

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters finally disclosed a $5,000 donation to his 2022 campaign from a PAC one year after the report was due. The 1776 Project made the donation on October 31, 2022. It says on its website it is “committed to abolishing critical race theory … from the public school curriculum.” Walters was supposed to report the contribution within 24 hours because it was received just days before the general election.

Virginia – An Election Chief Says the ‘Big Lie’ Ended Her Career. She’s Fighting Back.

MSN – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 11/2/2023

Lynchburg Registrar Christine Gibbons was removed from her position, accused of corruption, taken to court, and reported to police for supposedly siphoning votes to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. A Republican who called for Gibbons’ firing and attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, was appointed as one of her bosses on the local election board. Gibbons filed a lawsuit, which contends the election board violated her First Amendment right to free political association by removing her for purely partisan reasons. It is among the first in the country to make that argument.

Virginia – Va. AG Will Probe Fundraising of Pro-Palestinian Group

MSN – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 10/31/2023

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced his office will investigate the fundraising of one of the nation’s most prominent nonprofit organizations dedicated to educating the public, lobbying Congress, and organizing rallies for pro-Palestinian causes. Miyares said his office has “reason to believe” the Northern Virginia-based American Muslims for Palestine may not be complying with state rules on charitable giving and will investigate allegations lodged in a federal civil suit that the group provides indirect support to Hamas. AMP denied the allegations and called them not only “defamatory, but dangerous.”

Virginia – Youngkin ‘Purge’ Removed Nearly 3,400 Legal Virginia Voters from Rolls

MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 10/29/2023

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s elections team has admitted in the run-up to pivotal General Assembly elections that it removed nearly 3,400 qualified voters from the state’s rolls, far higher than the administration’s previous estimate of 270. Elections officials acknowledged what it called the mistaken removal five weeks after early voting began for the November 7 elections. The outcome will determine the fate of Youngkin’s conservative legislative agenda.

Washington – WA Lawmaker Plans Hiatus from Think Tank Job to Comply with Ethics Rules

Washington State Standard – Jerry Cornfield | Published: 10/27/2023

State Rep. Chris Corry appeared to satisfy concerns of an ethics panel so he can continue working for the Washington Policy Center without violating any conflict-of-interest laws. He became director of the conservative think tank’s Center for Government Reform in May. Corry could have faced an investigation and punishment by the Legislative Ethics Board if he kept both posts.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Sues Republican Legislature Over Blocking Basic Functions

ABC News – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 10/31/2023

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers sued the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature, arguing it is obstructing basic government functions, including signing off on pay raises for university employees that were previously approved. Evers is asking the state Supreme Court to take the case directly, bypassing lower courts. Evers argues committees controlled by a few Republican lawmakers are being used by the Legislature to “reach far beyond its proper zone of constitutional lawmaking authority.”

Wyoming – Bills Would Add Voter Requirements, Expand Campaign Donor Reporting

Gillette News Record – Hannah Shields (Wyoming Tribune Eagle) | Published: 10/27/2023

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee advanced bill drafts that could create significant changes to existing Wyoming election laws. One bill would add a 30-day residency requirement prior to Election Day. Another would expand the definition of an organization to include “any group of two … or more persons that … pools or otherwise jointly expends funds totaling in aggregate more than ($1,000).” The proposed legislation would allow groups to report campaign expenditure or electioneering communication without registering as a PAC.

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