November 4, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – November 4, 2022
Architect of Capitol Abused Government Car Privileges, IG Report Finds
MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 11/1/2022
A report from the Architect of the Capitol inspector general suggests Architect Brett Blanton drove to Florida at the government’s expense, let his daughter use the office’s “free gas” for Walmart runs, allowed his wife to give prohibited private Capitol tours, and may have misled others into thinking he was an off-duty cop. During the investigation, the inspector general’s office discovered social media posts on September 30, 2020, from Blanton’s wife, one of which asked “ALL PATRIOTS” to contact her for private tours of the Capitol at a time when the building was closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Capitol Police Cameras Caught Break-In at Pelosi Home, But No One Was Watching
MSN – Aaron Davis, Carol Leonnig, Mariana Sotomayor, and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 11/1/2022
If the Capitol Police were going to stop an attack at the home of any member of Congress, they had perhaps the best chance to do so at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, according to law enforcement officials. But hours after Pelosi left San Francisco recently and returned to Capitol Hill, much of the security left with her, and officers in Washington, D.C. stopped continuously monitoring video feeds outside her house. The subsequent attack on Pelosi’s husband, Paul, demonstrated the immensity, and perhaps the impossibility, of law enforcement’s task to protect the 535 members of Congress at a time of unprecedented numbers of threats against them.
Chief Justice Roberts Temporarily Delays Release of Trump Tax Records
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 11/1/2022
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily halted the release of former President Trump’s tax records to a congressional committee and called for more briefings in the case. Without the Supreme Court’s intervention, the records could have been handed over to the House Ways and Means Committee as early as November 3. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to review earlier rulings that found lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the legal battle.
Churches Are Breaking the Law by Endorsing in Elections, Experts Say. The IRS Looks the Other Way.
MSN – Jeremy Schwartz and Jessica Priest (ProPublica/Texas Tribune Investigative Unit) | Published: 10/30/2022
Eighteen churches over the past two years appeared to violate the Johnson Amendment, a federal law barring churches and nonprofits from directly or indirectly participating in political campaigns. Some pastors have gone so far as to paint candidates they oppose as demonic. At one point, churches fretted over losing their tax-exempt status for even unintentional missteps. Although the provision was mostly uncontroversial for decades after it passed in 1954, it has become a target for both evangelical churches and former President Trump. But the IRS has largely abdicated its enforcement responsibilities as churches have become more brazen.
Companies Often Don’t Match Climate Talk and Lobbying, Study Says
MSN – Ellen Meyers (Roll Call) | Published: 11/3/2022
Major corporations’ advocacy for clean energy and climate policies falls well short of the nearly unanimous support for cutting emissions and boosting renewable energy in the U.S, according to a report from sustainability nonprofit Ceres. Of listed companies in the S&P 100 index, nine out of every 10 acknowledge climate change is a material risk to their industry. Yet only half of the 100 companies disclosed they lobbied for climate policies aligning with the objectives of the Paris Agreement in the past three years.
Former Trump Aide Kash Patel Set to Testify in Mar-a-Lago Docs Probe: Report
MSN – Julie Shapero (The Hill) | Published: 11/2/2022
Former Trump aide Kash Patel is set to testify before a federal grand jury about the classified documents recovered from former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home after being granted immunity for any information. Patel, who has claimed Trump had declassified the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, previously refused to provide information to the grand jury, instead invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Patel told The Wall Street Journal in August he witnessed Trump issue verbal declassification orders.
He’s an Outspoken Defender of Meat. Industry Funds His Research, Files Show.
DNyuz – Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times) | Published: 10/31/2022
After three dozen leading researchers sounded a warning in a scientific journal that to fight climate change and improve human health, the world needed to dramatically cut back on eating red meat. The findings were quickly attacked by Frank Mitloehner, the head of an agricultural research center at the University of California, Davis. Mitloehner’s academic group, the Clear Center, receives almost all its funding from meat industry donations and coordinates with a major livestock lobby group on messaging, Critics say that close financial ties between a research center and the industry it studies create the potential for conflict-of-interest.
‘I Think It’s an Earthquake’: The political world reckons with a Musk-owned Twitter
MSN – Rebecca Kern, David Siders, and Meridith McGraw (Politico) | Published: 10/28/2022
Elon Musk formally took control of Twitter and after firing four key executives, tweeted “the bird is freed” – touching off a wave of both anxiety and relief in different corners of the political world. Conservatives, especially on the far right, view Musk as something of a savior, liberating Twitter from what they see as a progressive approach to what content is allowed. Liberals worry about what happens to a key information platform without a gatekeeper, especially if Musk allows Donald Trump back onto the platform.
Lawyers Who Advanced Trump’s Election Challenges Return for Midterms
DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 11/2/2022
At least three dozen lawyers and law firms that advanced Donald Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election are now working for Republican candidates, parties, and other groups, filing lawsuits and other complaints that could lay the groundwork for challenging the results of midterm elections. Though the 2020 legal push failed, with just one victory out of more than 60 lawsuits, scores of lawyers behind it have continued to work on election litigation.
Perkins Coie Dials Back Politics, Doubles Down on Corporate Work
Bloomberg Government – Justin Wise | Published: 11/2/2022
Perkins Coie, the law firm that has long been a top adviser to Democrats, is looking to expand its work for tech and emerging companies while pulling back from politics. The firm’s work in the political sphere has plummeted in the current election cycle, after the departure of prominent elections lawyer Marc Elias and a group of attorneys. It has been best known recently for fighting off Republican lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win and advising the Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton campaigns.
Political Advertisers Shift Spending from Facebook to Streaming Platforms Ahead of Midterms
CNBC – Lauren Feiner and Jonathan Vanian | Published: 11/2/2022
Political advertisers are spending less on Facebook for the 2022 midterms after flocking to the social network in previous cycles. Apple’s iOS privacy update in 2021 has made it more difficult for campaigns to reach potential voters with targeted ads. Laura Carlson, digital director of the Democratic Governors Association, said her organization is pushing the other half of its $10 million budget to areas like traditional email and text campaigns as well as newer platforms like streaming services.
Their Messages, Skirting Political Ad Rules
DNyuz – Stephanie Lai (New York Times) | Published: 11/3/2022
Social media influencers are paid hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars per post to circulate political messages, and they are part of a growing group of people who are being paid by campaign operatives to create content aimed at influencing elections. No federal guidance has been published on the specifics of influencer political advertisements. That means users and marketing campaigns are effectively bound by no more than an honor system for disclosures. Some worry it could exacerbate the spread of misinformation and allow shadowy political messaging to flourish.
Trump Lawyers Saw Justice Thomas as ‘Only Chance’ to Stop 2020 Election Certification
MSN – Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein, and Nicholas Wu (Politico) | Published: 11/2/2022
Donald Trump’s attorneys saw a direct appeal to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as their best hope of derailing Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election, according to emails disclosed to congressional investigators. Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro contended Thomas would be “our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress.” Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters arising out of Georgia and would have been the one to receive any urgent appeal of Trump’s lawsuit to the Supreme Court.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Convicted of Obstructing Jan. 6 Probe
MSN – Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 10/28/2022
After he went into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and then posted about it on Facebook, Jacob Hiles was arrested. In speaking with the FBI, Hiles mentioned something that caught the attention of investigators: “following the riot he had become friends with a Capitol police officer.” The FBI found a screenshot on his phone of a Facebook message sent to him by U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley on January 7. Riley deleted all his messages with Hiles. A jury recently convicted Riley on one obstruction count, for deleting his Facebook messages with Hiles, and failed to reach a verdict on the issue of his initial message to Hiles.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – Alaska Campaign Finance Regulators Issue Warning to the Republican Governors Association
Yahoo News – Iris Samuels (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 10/26/2022
The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) deferred a decision on a complaint alleging the Republican Governors Association (RGA) was illegally spending money to support Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection bid. The decision allows A Stronger Alaska, the independent expenditure group funded by the RGA, to continue spending money before the November election. But in their ruling, commissioners issued a warning to the RGA and A Stronger Alaska, saying they “continue to make expenditures at their own peril.”
Arizona – Judge Limits Ballot Drop Box Monitoring in Arizona After Intimidation Claims
MSN – Annabelle Timsit (Washington Post) | Published: 11/2/2022
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against a far-right group accused of intimidating voters in Arizona. The ruling dramatically restricts what Clean Elections USA or its allies can do or say near ballot boxes. Donald Trump and his supporters have made the drop boxes the focal point of baseless claims they were used in a large-scale scheme to submit false ballots during the 2020 presidential election. The order extends to voters who use ballot drop boxes some of the same protections that are typically afforded at polling places.
California – Bribery Trial Opens for Hotel Company Linked to José Huizar Case
Spectrum News – City News Service | Published: 10/27/2022
A federal prosecutor told a jury that a China-based hotel company owned by a fugitive real estate developer bribed former Los Angeles City Councilperson José Huizar with over $1.5 million in cash, trips on private jets, and “casino chips and prostitutes” in exchange for his official support of a redevelopment project. The defense countered that city officials “universally loved” the project, so “there was no reason to bribe anyone.” Shen Zhen New World I, owned by developer Wei Huang, is charged with bribing Huizar to make sure city officials approved the proposed 77-story mixed-use skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles.
California – Judge Denies Motion to End Corruption Trial after Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Resignation
East Bay Times – Robert Salonga (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 11/2/2022
A judge ruled the civil corruption trial for Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith will continue after Smith suddenly resigned and asked the court to dismiss the case now that she cannot be removed from office. The arguments highlighted the lack of precedent for removal-from-office trials spurred by a civil grand jury; the only other one in known memory was in 2002 involving the ouster of a Mountain View city council member.
California – Years Later, City Leaders Still Often Don’t Comply with Disclosure Laws
San Francisco Examiner – Adam Shanks | Published: 11/2/2022
Many top city officials in San Francisco still do not comply with a 1999 law that requires them to maintain a daily public calendar that documents who they meet with and what they talk about. There remains a lack of uniformity in how those officials interpret the law, which may be as relevant today as ever thanks to the widespread distrust San Franciscans have of city government due to recent incidents of corruption.
Colorado – Judge Rebuffs GOP Candidate’s Request to Be Exempt from Spending Limits
Colorado Springs Gazette – Michael Karlik (Colorado Politics) | Published: 11/2/2022
A federal judge rejected a Colorado House candidate’s request to spend freely in the final days of the election, after he had inadvertently signed up for voluntary spending limits when he registered his candidacy. Although Paul Archer registered to run in February and realized in June that he had opted into a campaign financing mechanism that requires him to limit his overall spending, Archer only sought a judge’s order to block the spending limits two days after county clerks began mailing ballots. The judge faulted Archer and his campaign committee for the unreasonable delay.
Connecticut – Former CT State Rep. Michael DiMassa Pleads Guilty to Stealing About $1.2 Million in Pandemic Relief Money
MSN – Edmund Mahoney (Hartford Courant) | Published: 11/1/2022
Former Connecticut Rep. Michael DiMassa pleaded guilty to charges that he stole about $1.2 million that West Haven was awarded to cover expenses arising from the coronavirus pandemic. DiMassa was empowered by West Haven’s mayor to approve spending for prevention measures and other unexpected costs. He admitted he conspired with his wife and two others to embezzle the federal grant money by creating dummy invoices and directing payments to sham companies.
Florida – Watchdog Files FEC Complaint Against Nonprofits Tied to ‘Ghost’ Candidate Scandal
MSN – Jeff Weiner (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 10/28/2022
The “dark-money” nonprofit central to Florida’s so-called ghost candidate scandal, as well as several related organizations, may have violated federal campaign finance laws to conceal political spending, according to a complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The complaint alleges violations under the Federal Election Campaign Act, which prohibits contributions made “in the name of another,” typically by funneling money intended to support a cause or candidate through a network of entities to conceal its true origins.
Georgia – An Ethics Watchdog Criticized Stacey Abrams. His Boss Retracted It.
DNyuz – Michael Powell (New York Times) | Published: 11/3/2022
When Craig Holman, a campaign finance and ethics expert, criticized Fair Fight Action, a politically powerful voting rights group, and its founder, Stacey Abrams, who happens to be running for governor of Georgia, his boss took notice. The day the article appeared, an official with Fair Fight Action complained to Public Citizen. The next day, Public Citizen retracted Holman’s criticism. It then congratulated Fair Fight Action for “heroic work” in protecting the vote and stated it was “proud to partner with them.” This partnership, Public Citizen officials said, was unofficial and not financial.
Georgia – Supreme Court Denies Lindsey Graham Appeal to Block Subpoena in Election Subversion Case
Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 11/1/2022
The Supreme Court denied U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bid to block a subpoena from prosecutors investigating Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election in Georgia. The court agreed that Graham can be required to provide testimony to a grand jury about matters that are not related to his official congressional work. Prosecutors in Fulton County have emphasized they do not plan to question Graham about his legislative work but are probing his December 2020 phone calls to state officials amid a recount and legal challenges by Trump.
Hawaii – Hawaii Standards Commission Moves to Tighten Ethics Rules for Lawmakers and Lobbyists
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 10/26/2022
A commission wants the Hawaii Legislature to post records of legislative allowances online, require lawmakers to disclose any business relationship with lobbyists and other organizations trying to influence government, and make it harder for legislators to vote on bills when they may pose a conflict-of-interest. The Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct advanced several proposals aimed at lobbyists. The bills would mandate annual ethics training for lobbyists, require them to disclose a list of bill numbers they are trying to influence, and prohibit them from giving gifts to legislators and government employees.
Illinois – Pritzker Gives Shoe Leather and Big Bucks to Democrats Running for State’s Top Court – But GOP Says He’s Skirting the Law
Chicago Sun-Times – Tina Sfondeles | Published: 11/1/2022
Gov. J.B. Pritzker dipped into a trust fund to donate to two Democratic candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court, a decision Republicans say is skirting contribution limits the governor set himself. At issue is a bill the governor signed into law earlier this year that caps contributions to judicial candidates to $500,000 from “any single person.” But the Illinois State Board of Elections says Pritzker’s multiple donations are allowed.
Illinois – Tom Cullen, Longtime Brain in Madigan Political Operation, Provided Testimony for Feds
MSN – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 10/30/2022
Tom Cullen, a lobbyist who was an inside operator for years on former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s government staff, testified before a federal grand jury looking into broad aspects of Madigan’s political world, which prosecutors allege included a criminal enterprise aimed at providing personal financial rewards for Madigan and his associates. It has been reported that Cullen and his lobbying firm were at the center of an alleged scheme by AT&T Illinois to pay thousands of dollars to a former member of Madigan’s leadership team in exchange for the speaker’s help on legislation the company wanted.
Kentucky – Are Kentucky Judges Disclosing Everything They Should?
Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting – Lily Burris and Michael Collins | Published: 11/3/2022
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting obtained financial disclosure forms from 93 sitting judges and challengers running for the bench in Jefferson County, nearby counties in north central Kentucky, and the state Supreme Court. The disclosures do not reveal much about the candidates’ financial holdings, while gaps in oversight and lax enforcement make it difficult to hold judges accountable for potential conflicts-of-interest that might come up in court.
Kentucky – Federal Appeals Court Blocks Effort to Investigate Joe Fischer’s Supreme Court Bid
MSN – Deborah Yetter and Joe Sonka (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 10/31/2022
A federal appeals court granted an injunction to temporarily block the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission from investigating complaints about the campaign of Joe Fischer, a candidate for the state Supreme Court. Fischer filed a lawsuit saying he believed the commission was considering possible sanctions against him for alleged campaign violations, largely that he has identified himself as “the conservative Republican” in a nonpartisan judicial race. The appeals court said a letter from the commission seeking information and a meeting with the campaign was a threat to Fischer’s First Amendment rights.
Montana – Commissioner of Political Practices Extends Departure Date
Helena Independent Record – Montana State News Bureau | Published: 10/26/2022
After previously announcing he would step down just before Election Day, Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said he still plans to leave the position but will remain in place until December 30. Republican lawmakers have for years brought legislation seeking to disband the office or reduce the power commissioners wield. Not since Dennis Unsworth’s departure at the end of 2010 has anyone served out a full term as commissioner.
Nevada – How One Small-Town Lawyer Faced Down the Plans of Election Skeptics
MSN – Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) | Published: 10/30/2022
Among the many anonymous jobs at the grassroots of American democracy, the county attorney is one of the most anonymous of all. Pickens County Attorney Phil Landrum’s days are usually spent advising county boards on the minutiae of state law, a job that has lately included defending his corner of the nation’s voting system against a barrage of attempts to upend it. Thousands of local officials across the country find themselves in a similar position as former President Trump and his allies continue to spread false claims about the security of America’s elections and urge their followers to act.
New York – Trump Organization on Trial for Criminal Tax Fraud
MSN – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 10/31/2022
The Trump Organization is on trial for criminal tax fraud for what prosecutors say was a 15-year scheme by the company’s former chief financial officer to avoid paying taxes on fringe benefits, including apartments and luxury cars. In opening statements, prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred over the company’s culpability for the actions of Allen Weisselberg, who has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify as a prosecution witness. The tax fraud case is the only criminal trial to arise from the Manhattan district attorney’s three-year investigation of Donald Trump and is one of three active cases involving Trump or the company in New York courts.
Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Court: Ballots in undated envelopes won’t count
Yahoo News – Mark Scolforo (Associated Press) | Published: 11/1/2022
Pennsylvania officials cannot count votes from mail-in or absentee ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes, the state Supreme Court ruled a week before tabulation will begin in races for governor, U.S. Senate, and state Legislature. The court directed county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve” those ballots. The justices split on whether making the envelope dates mandatory under state law would violate provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that immaterial errors or omissions should not be used to prevent voting.
Pennsylvania – The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Paid $15K to Take 2 Pa. Lawmakers to Europe
Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 11/2/2022
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra paid for Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and state Rep. Rob Mercuri, along with their spouses, to travel to Europe to see the orchestra play in nine cities. The symphony, which has received nearly $10 million in state funding over the past five years, picked up the costs for their concert tickets, airfare, hotel, meals, and other incidentals. The orchestra estimated the cost at $15,000. Lawmakers are permitted to accept gifts of any value as long as they are not in exchange for official action and are reported. The Legislature recently without passing a gift ban bill.
South Carolina – SC School Board Member Wanted Taxpayers to Fund Hotel Upgrade Until Ethics Threat, Email Says
MSN – Bristow Marchant (The State) | Published: 11/2/2022
For more than a month, Lashonda McFadden, a member of the board of trustees for the Richland School District, resisted reimbursing the district $425 for upgrading a hotel room at a conference in Atlanta and a pet fee, according to an email sent by the James Manning, the board’s chairperson. Manning said McFadden asked for the money to be taken out of a taxpayer-funded travel account. The money was finally paid back after Manning told McFadden he would refer the matter to the state Ethics Commission.
South Dakota – Federal Court Rules SD Ballot Measure Law Curbs Free Speech
MSN – Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 11/1/2022
A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to block parts of a South Dakota law that would have required ballot petition workers to publicly disclose their personal identification information. The law passed in 2020 was just one attempt by lawmakers in recent years to add barriers to ballot measures, which have given progressive causes a chance at enactment in the politically red state. Steven Grasz wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that being forced to disclose the information would be “chilling in today’s world” and the law would violate the First Amendment.
Tennessee – Shelby County Alters How It Selects an Ethics Officer, and What Complaints They Can Act On
Yahoo News – Katherine Burgess (Memphis Commercial Appeal) | Published: 10/31/2022
How the ethics officer of Shelby County is selected will change after a vote by commissioners. Now, the officer will be nominated by the county mayor with a concurrent resolution by the county commission. That ethics officer will no longer be able to act on anonymous complaints. Instead, they will be able to act only those that are “in writing and signed under oath by the person making the complaint.”
Tennessee – State Sen. Brian Kelsey Files Motion to Change Not Guilty Plea in Federal Campaign Finance Investigation
MSN – Adam Friedman (Tennessean) | Published: 10/28/2022
Lawyers for Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey filed a motion to change his plea of not guilty, indicating he may have reached an agreement with federal prosecutors in the campaign finance investigation into his failed 2016 campaign for the U.S. House. The motion comes nearly two weeks after Nashville club owner Joshua Smith pleaded guilty a spart of the probe. Smith’s guilty plea suggests he was cooperating with prosecutors ahead of a trial that is scheduled for January.
Texas – For Third Time This Year, AG Ken Paxton Fails to Disclose Campaign Donors as Required by Law
MSN – Taylor Goldenstein (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 11/1/2022
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has failed to file fundraising disclosure forms with complete lists of donors three times in the past year. Paxton has long had an antagonistic relationship with the Texas Ethics Commission, the agency that levies fines for violations such as late or incomplete reports. As of July, it had been almost three years since his office had sued candidates who have not paid their fines, though it is part of his job. He has also declined to represent the commission in court as his political allies seek to dismantle it with a lawsuit.
Vermont – ‘So Blatantly Illegal’: Liam Madden admits to funneling money through family to inflate campaign finance numbers
VTDigger.org – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 10/28/2022
During a radio interview, Liam Madden, the Republican nominee in the open race for Vermont’s seat in the U.S. House, described in detail a self-funded scheme to inflate his campaign donations during the primary cycle to qualify for candidate debates. Madden claimed to have “drained” his wife’s business’s bank account and distributed roughly $25,000 amongst family members – including his toddler son – who then donated the money to his campaign. Madden said he is now recouping the money by collecting a salary from his campaign.
Washington DC – At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman Misspent Public Campaign Funds on Poll, Says Regulator
DCist – Martin Austermuhle | Published: 10/28/2022
The Office of Campaign Finance said District of Columbia Councilperson Elissa Silverman improperly used public campaign funds to pay for two targeted polls ahead of the June Democratic primary for a race in which she was not a candidate. In its ruling, which Silverman says she will appeal, the office ordered her to refund the city more than $6,000 for the cost of the polls. Silverman participates in the Fair Elections program, which matches small-dollar contributions with public funds.
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