News You Can Use Digest - October 1, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

October 1, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 1, 2021


As Districts Grow More Diverse, Congressional Outreach Does Too
MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 9/30/2021

Over the past decade, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter’s 45th District in Southern California grew to the largest by population in the state and was 45 percent non-Hispanic white in 2020, down from 55 percent in 2010. The district is more than one quarter Asian, which has shaped how Porter reaches out to her constituents. For example, she often contacts local community groups and ethnic churches in efforts to share more information about federal programs.

As Redistricting Begins, States Tackle the Issue of ‘Prison Gerrymandering’
MSN – Emmanuel Felton (Washington Post) | Published: 9/28/2021

As lawmakers begin drawing lines for congressional and state legislative districts based on the 2020 Census, there is a key question facing these drafters: how to count the 2.3 million people housed in the nation’s jails and prisons. While inmates are not allowed to vote in 48 states, they count for the purposes of representation. For most of American history, counting inmates where they were imprisoned did not have a huge impact on political power and representation. But that changed when states began adopting tough-on-crime laws in the 1980s, leading to an era of mass incarcerations.

Biden White House Leans Toward Releasing Information About Trump and Jan. 6 Attack, Setting Off Legal and Political Showdown
MSN – Tom Hamburger and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2021

The White House is leaning toward releasing information to Congress about what Donald Trump and his aides were doing during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol despite the former president’s objections, a decision that could have significant ramifications. Trump has said he will cite “executive privilege” to block information requests from the House select committee investigating the events of that day, banking on a legal theory that has successfully allowed presidents and their aides to avoid or delay congressional scrutiny for decades. But the Biden White House plans to err on the side of disclosure given the gravity of the events.

Covert Postal Service Unit Probed Jan. 6 Social Media
Yahoo News – Betsy Woodruff Swann (Politico) | Published: 9/27/2021

In the days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, an obscure arm of the U.S. Postal Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service’s Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) sent bulletins to law enforcement agencies around the country on how to view social media posts that had been deleted. Few Americans are aware the same organization that delivers their mail also runs a surveillance operation rooted in an agency that dates back to the 18th century. And iCOP’s involvement raises questions about how broad the mandate of the Postal Service’s policing arm has grown from its stated mission of keeping mail deliverers safe.

DNC to Host First In-Person Fundraiser of the Covid Era
Yahoo News – Caitlin Oprysko (Politico) | Published: 9/25/2021

Eighteen months into the pandemic, the Democratic National Committee held its first in-person, indoor fundraising events, turning to K Street to haul in cash ahead of the midterm cycle. For lobbyists who have been starved of facetime with party leaders, they can give $36,500, the maximum amount an individual or non-multi-candidate PAC can contribute to a national party committee. That donation brings with it a more intimate “private clutch,” according to the invitation. The hosting of an in-person event marks a return for Democrats to the usual method of raising cash after meeting with donors became confined to Zoom calls.

Fallout Begins for Far-Right Trolls Who Trusted Epik to Keep Their Identities Secret
Seattle Times – Drew Harwell, Hannah Allam, Jeremy Merrill, and Craig Timberg (Washington Post) | Published: 9/28/2021

In the real world, Joshua Alayon worked as a real estate agent in Pompano Beach, Florida. But online, data revealed by the massive hack of Epik, an Internet-services company popular with the far right, signaled a darker side. Alayon’s name and personal details were found on invoices suggesting he had once paid for websites with names such as and The hacking group Anonymous exposed previously obscure details of far-right sites and launched a race among extremism researchers to identify the hidden promoters of online hate. After Alayon’s name appeared in the breached data, his brokerage firm dropped him as an agent.

FEC Debates Deadlocks and Dismissals
Investigative Reporting Workshop – Keith Newell | Published: 9/29/2021

Since its founding in 1974, the FEC has long been regarded as an ineffective agency, garnering criticism as a “toothless tiger” or a “tightly leashed watchdog.” The panel has a maximum of six members, with no more than three from one party. Since 2006, an increasingly high number of deadlocked votes result in dismissals of allegations of misconduct; deadlocks are effectively victories for the Republican commissioners. Party loyalty appears to be less important to commissioners than ideology.

House Jan. 6 Committee Issues Subpoenas for Pro-Trump Rally Organizers
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Tom Hamburger, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 9/29/2021

The U.S. House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued subpoenas to 11 people associated with or involved in the planning of pro-Trump rallies that preceded the violent insurrection. The subpoenas come a week after it issued subpoenas targeting two top Trump White House officials, the chief of staff to the acting defense secretary, and longtime Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. The subpoenas may be able to shed light on the degree to which Donald Trump and his senior White House aides knew about their fears of chaos on January 6.

Ohio Men Sentenced to 45 Days Become First Jan. 6 Misdemeanor Defendants to Receive Jail Time
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/29/2021

A court sentenced two Ohio men to serve 45 days in jail after federal prosecutors for the first-time requested incarceration at sentencing hearings for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The punishment comes after judges for months have questioned whether no-prison plea deals offered by the government to low-level January 6 defendants are too lenient to deter future attackers from terrorizing members of Congress.

Supreme Court Observers See Trouble Ahead as Public Approval of Justices Erodes
MSN – Robert Barnes and Seung Min Kim (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2021

On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin one of the most potentially divisive terms in years. Docketed cases concern gun control, separation of church and state, and the biggest showdown in decades on the constitutional right to an abortion. Meanwhile, a presidential commission studying the court is being bombarded with criticism from the left, and occasionally the right, that the justices are too political, too powerful, and serve for too long. “Not since Bush v. Gore has the public perception of the court’s legitimacy seemed so seriously threatened,” Georgetown Supreme Court Institute Executive Director Irv Gornstein said.

The FEC Unanimously Rejected a Trump Campaign Complaint Against Snapchat After the Social Media Site Removed the Former President’s Content from Its ‘Discover’ Feed
Yahoo News – Brian Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 9/23/2021

The FEC dismissed a complaint made by former President Trump’s campaign against Snapchat, which it said had violated election laws by removing the campaign’s content from its curated “Discover” page. Snapchat announced in June 2020 it would no longer promote Trump’s content on the page, though it did not remove Trump’s account from the platform. The Trump campaign alleged Snapchat made an illegal contribution to Joe Biden by doing so.

There Are Just 9 Women Governors. Both Parties Want Change.
Yahoo News – Liz Crampton (Politico) | Published: 9/28/2021

Women now account for a third of state lawmakers, more than a quarter of the U.S. House and nearly as much of the U.S. Senate, but in many states have yet to shatter the highest glass ceiling: governorships. Today, just nine women hold the title, with power split among six Democrats and three Republicans. Four of those women took over the role by succession. There is growing urgency among leaders in both major parties around bolstering the chances of women running in the 2022 gubernatorial elections, when voters in 36 states will pick their next chief executive.

Trump Loses Case to Enforce Omarosa Manigault Newman’s N.D.A.
MSN – Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 9/28/2021

Former President Trump lost an effort to enforce a nondisclosure agreement against Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House aide and a star on “The Apprentice” who wrote a tell-all book about serving in his administration. The decision from an arbiter calls for her to collect legal fees from the Trump campaign. The campaign filed the case shortly after Manigault Newman published her book. It claimed she violated a nondisclosure agreement she had signed during the 2016 campaign stipulating she would not reveal private or confidential information about Trump’s family, business, or personal life.

Two Fed Officials Announce Retirements Amid Controversy Over Ethics and Stocktrading
MSN – Rachel Siegel (Washington Post) | Published: 9/27/2021

Two top Federal Reserve officials are leaving their posts amid scrutiny over their stock-trading activities during the coronavirus crisis, behavior which spurred an unusual review by the Fed of trading rules for its officials. Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren and Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan both announced their retirements. Earlier, media outlets reported on the financial disclosures of the regional bank presidents, showing both actively traded in stocks and other investments while in their roles setting monetary policy and assisting the central bank through the covid crisis.

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Senator Cruz’s Campaign Finance Challenge
Yahoo Finance – Andrew Chung (Reuters) | Published: 9/30/2021

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the FEC’s bid to restore a campaign finance law that limits the amount of money candidates can accept from donors after an election as they try to recoup the money they personally lent to their formal campaign organizations. A lower court ruling found the cap violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech by unjustifiably burdening political expression. The law imposes a ceiling of $250,000 on payments from donations made after an election even if candidates made loans exceeding that sum.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Arizona Recount Results Raise Stakes for GOP-Backed Ballot Reviews in Other States
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2021

A GOP-commissioned report that did not find evidence fraud tainted Arizona’s 2020 election has intensified the fight over similar partisan ballot reviews in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, with former President Trump pressing for such examinations and Democrats stepping up their efforts to block them. The outcome of the recount in Maricopa County, which concluded President Biden won the state’s largest county by even more votes than the certified results, raises the stakes for the Republican leaders who have gone along with Trump’s demands for “forensic audits” in other states.

California Between the Lines: Hidden partisans try to influence California’s independent redistricting
MSN – Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal (CalMatters) | Published: 9/28/2021

California congressional districts are drawn by an independent citizens commission, but it is hearing from candidates and party officials who do not disclose their partisan affiliations. Though the commission is prohibited from considering the electoral interests of elected officials, candidates, or political parties, there is nothing that bars any of those players from trying to influence the decisions, nor any laws or rules requiring public commenters to list potential conflicts-of-interest. But not disclosing a personal stake may cross an ethical line, said Jessica Levinson, a former member of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

California California Is Now Permanently a Vote-by-Mail State as Gavin Newsom Signs Bill
MSN – Lara Korte (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 9/27/2021

California will now mail ballots to voters in all elections, extending a practice temporarily adopted during the pandemic to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at polling locations. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 37, which requires county elections officials to mail a ballot to every active registered voter for all elections, whether they request it or not. Voters can still choose to vote at physical polling locations, if they prefer.

California California Treasurer Sued for Harassment Often Shared Overnight Lodging with Staffers
MSN – Sophia Bollag (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 9/28/2021

Treasurer Fiona Ma has frequently shared hotel rooms with her chief of staff during her tenure as California’s top banking official, a practice she said she engaged in “to save money,” according to expense reports. A review of travel documents found that sharing lodging with staff was a common practice for Ma, who is facing a lawsuit filed by a different employee, who no longer works in the office. The worker accused her of sexual harassment when the two women shared hotel rooms.

California L.A. County Sheriff’s Unit Accused of Targeting Political Enemies
MSN – Alene Tchekmedyian (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/23/2021

A group of deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department make up a little-known team of investigators formed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other top sheriff’s officials. Much of what they do, by design, is a mystery to the public and even to most within the department. But as some of the investigations handled by the team have come to light, a common thread has emerged: their targets are outspoken critics of Villanueva or the department. Concern over the Civil Rights and Public Integrity Deta has caused consternation both inside and outside the department.

California Oakland Issues Its Largest Ethics Fine Ever, Against a Corrupt Former Building Inspector
Oaklandside – David DeBolt | Published: 9/28/2021

The Oakland Public Ethics Commission issued a fine of $309,600 against a former city building inspector accused of accepting bribes from property owners in exchange for greenlighting inspections or issuing permits. It is by far the largest fine ever issued by the commission. Thomas Espinosa, the former specialty combination inspector in the city’s Planning and Building Department’s Code Enforcement Division, also convinced some property owners whose buildings he inspected to hire him as a contractor, the investigation found.

Colorado An Elections Supervisor Embraced Conspiracy Theories. Officials Say She Has Become an Insider Threat.
MSN – Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2021

In a lawsuit filed by the Colorado secretary of state, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters and her deputy have been accused of sneaking someone into the county elections offices to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines. Those copies later surfaced online and in the hands of election deniers. Local and state state prosecutors, and the FBI, are investigating whether criminal charges are warranted. The events represent an escalation in the attacks on the nation’s voting system, one in which officials who were responsible for election security allegedly took actions that undermined that security.

Colorado Aurora City Council OKs Changes to Campaign Finance Law After Lawsuit from Mayor
Denver Gazette – Hannah Metzger | Published: 9/29/2021

The Aurora City Council approved changes to its campaign finance law after a court ruled in favor of Mayor Mike Coffman, who sued the city over provisions he claimed violated his freedom of speech. The lawsuit argued the measure, passed by the council in 2020, prohibited former and future candidates from pushing for ballot issues or helping other candidates with their campaigns, which Coffman said was intended to prevent his supporters from mobilizing in support of other candidates.

Colorado Ex-Colorado GOP Chair Disbarred in Pro-Trump PAC Funds Case
MSN – Associated Press | Published: 9/23/2021

Former Colorado Republican Party Chairperson Ryan Call will be disbarred after acknowledging he took nearly $280,000 from a super PAC supporting former President Trump while Call served as the PAC’s treasurer. Call admitted to entering the Rebuilding America Now PAC into a secret contract to pay himself $5,000 a month for “political strategy and fundraising support” and he misled members of his former law firm about his activities with the committee.

Colorado Newly Revealed Interactions Added to Redistricting Lobbying Complaint
Colorado Politics – Evan Wyloge | Published: 9/27/2021

A complaint filed against a group of Republican political consultants and lobbyists, accusing them of failing to file proper redistricting lobbying disclosure, grew larger when the complainant added new interactions between the complaint targets and Colorado’s redistricting commissioners. The complaint accused consultant Alan Philp of failing to file lobbying disclosure reports and accused former House speaker and now-lobbyist Frank McNulty and lobbyist Greg Brophy of failing to register and report their interactions with commissioners. All three work for Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors.

Hawaii Years Before Indictments, Honolulu Permitting Department Was Warned About Corrupt Culture
Honolulu Civil Beat – Christina Jedra | Published: 9/29/2021

The Honolulu Ethics Commission investigated the Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) several times after it received numerous complaints about a “pay-to-play” culture at the department, records show. Taken as a whole, the records foreshadow the scandal that erupted earlier this year. In March, five current and former DPP employees, along with a local architect, were indicted for bribery schemes going back as far as 2012. The commission told DPP leadership about its concerns several times.

Illinois Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz Pleads Guilty to Spending Campaign Funds on Sports, Travel and Other Personal Items
MSN – Madeline Buckley (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/27/2021

Former Chicago Ald. Ricardo Muñoz pleaded guilty to spending cash from a political fund on personal items such as sports tickets, meals, and travel. Muñoz pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. Federal prosecutors alleged Muñoz stole from a PAC formed by the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus (CPRC), where he served as chairperson and performed the duties of its treasurer. Prosecutors accused him of moving funds from the CPRC into another fund he controlled, Citizens for Muñoz, and then into his personal checking account.

Illinois Obscenity Ruling? State’s Top Court to Hear Case Seeking to End Pols Using ‘Obscene Amounts’ of Campaign Cash to Pay Lawyers
Chicago Sun-Times – Rachel Hinton | Published: 9/29/2021

The state’s top court plans to rule on the question of whether politicians can dip into their campaign funds to pay for their criminal defense or other legal troubles, a decision that could directly affect the embattled husband of Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke. She recused herself from the decision to take the case and from hearing it once it comes before the justices. Her husband, Ald. Edward Burke (14th), has already spent nearly $2 million in campaign contributions on legal fees since federal agents raided his ward headquarters.

Maryland Baltimore’s Revamped Ethics Board Says It’s Ready to Provide Guidance to City Employees
Baltimore Sun – Emily Opilo | Published: 9/28/2021

Baltimore’s long underutilized Board of Ethics began issuing advisory opinions for the first time in three years in 2021 and has seen its web traffic triple, according to the panel’s annual report. The report, which is itself the first annual recap from the board since 2014, details a restructuring of the Board of Ethics since it was moved under the supervision of the Office of the Inspector General, a move that became effective last October. Since then, the board has been staffed by a full-time director and administrative assistant who established an ethics hotline and revamped the city’s ethics training process for city employees and elected officials.

Michigan Detroit Councilman Andre Spivey Admits He Took Bribes for Help with Towing
MSN – Joe Guillen (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 9/28/2021

Andre Spivey became the second Detroit City Council member this year to plead guilty to a public corruption charge, admitting he took $35,900 in bribes from an undercover law enforcement agent and a confidential FBI source in exchange for wielding his political influence. Spivey accepted the bribes in exchange for his assistance with a pending vehicle towing ordinance before the council, he said in court. The bribes were paid over the course of eight separate meetings with the confidential FBI source, most of which were recorded.

New Hampshire NH Supreme Court Asked to Define Governor’s Executive Privilege
MSN – Kevin Landrigan (Manchester Union Leader) | Published: 9/28/2021

Both sides in a legal dispute over open records asked the state’s highest court, for the first time, to spell out when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu can claim executive privilege to keep documents secret. Activist Louise Spencer sued Sununu’s office over email contacts his staffers had with a national Republican PAC before and after Sununu vetoed a 2019 bill to create an independent redistricting commission. The suit maintained that the governor’s office should not be exempt from the state’s Right-to-Know Law.

New Mexico Ethics Board Hands Gonzales a Reprimand and $2,000 Fine
Albuquerque Journal – Oliver Uyttebrouck | Published: 9/24/2021

The Albuquerque Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices imposed a $2,000 fine and a public reprimand on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, finding his mayoral campaign submitted 16 forged documents in his bid for public financing. The finding punctuates an unsuccessful monthslong quest by Gonzales to obtain more than $600,000 in public campaign financing. That effort foundered on a pair of complaints centered on the five-dollar qualifying contributions that candidates must collect from city voters to qualify for public money.

New York MTA Bus Boss Covered License Plate to Avoid Tolls, Had $100k in Outstanding Fines: Watchdog
Yahoo News – Clayton Guse (New York Daily News) | Published: 9/27/2021

A New York City Transit superintendent used a plastic license plate cover to dodge tolls for years across New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) inspector general said. The superintendent, identified as Aditya Samaroo, bragged to his colleagues he avoided paying tolls on bridges and tunnels by obscuring his license plate. Samaroo also dodged more than $100,000 in outstanding tolls and late fees by regularly swapping out his car’s license plates.

Ohio Ohio Governor Lobbyist Resigns; Was Linked to Bribery Probe
MSN – Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 9/24/2021

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s top lobbyist, a man linked to an ongoing federal bribery probe but never charged, resigned after three years on the job. Legislative Director Dan McCarthy cited “the pace and grind” of the job. Federal prosecutors charged five individuals with orchestrating a $60 million bribery scheme to assure the 2019 passage of a bill bailing out two nuclear power plants. The power plants were operated at the time by a wholly owned subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. McCarthy is a former FirstEnergy lobbyist who was president of one of the “dark money” groups that has been implicated in the alleged bribery scheme.

Pennsylvania A Leading Addiction Recovery Reformer in Philly Was on the Payroll of a Rehab Center Now Charged with Crimes
MSN – Jeremy Roebuck and Aubrey Wilson (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 9/27/2021

Fred Way has spent the last decade working to improve addiction recovery houses in Philadelphia. But for much of that time, he was on the payroll of a rehabilitation facility now accused of encouraging their worst abuses. He has advised lawmakers on state policy, and the recovery-house certification program created by his nonprofit, the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences, serves as the only benchmark for judging the quality of housing in Philadelphia for people in early recovery, and for determining which of those homes will receive coveted city funds. In a state grand jury report this summer, Wray acknowledged taking money from a drug rehab facility under criminal investigation.

South Dakota As Daughter Sought State License, Noem Summoned Agency Head
Yahoo News – Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 9/27/2021

Days after a South Dakota agency moved to deny her daughter’s application to become a certified real estate appraiser, Gov. Kristi Noem summoned to her office the state employee who ran the agency, the woman’s direct supervisor, and the state labor secretary. Noem’s daughter also attended. Kassidy Peters ultimately obtained the certification in November 2020, four months after the meeting at her mother’s office. A week after that, the labor secretary called the agency head, Sherry Bren, to demand her retirement, according to an age discrimination complaint. Bren left her job after the state paid her $200,000 to withdraw the complaint.

Texas Dallas Needs More Oversight and Stronger Ethics Rules, Review Finds
Dallas Morning News – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 9/27/2021

Dallas needs a department solely dedicated to investigating misconduct complaints to ensure they are properly handled, according to a report calling for ethics reforms. The city should create an Office of Inspector General and appoint a licensed attorney role who would find, investigate. and issue rulings on cases of alleged fraud, waste, abuse, campaign finance violations and other ethics misconduct, the report said. The move would replace the current process, where complaints are funneled through different channels and not independently investigated.

Texas ”Home Cooking’ Concerns Revealed in Corruption Prosecutions Outside Texas Capital
KXAN – David Barer and Josh Hinkle | Published: 9/20/2021

The Public Integrity Unit housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office was dismantled in 2015, following allegations it was politicizing prosecutions. Texas lawmakers aimed to reform the system by moving state public corruption investigations to the Department of Public Safety’s Texas Rangers and prosecuting accused officials in their home counties rather than Travis County. Six years later, a media investigation found prosecutions of statewide public officials for corruption are nearly non-existent. Since 2015, the Rangers investigated a handful of state-level elected leaders, but few faced charges.

Texas Texas Appears to Be Paying a Secretive Republican Political Operative $120,000 Annually to Work Behind the Scenes on Redistricting
MSN – Alexa Ura (Texas Tribune) | Published: 9/29/2021

A Republican redistricting operative whose clandestine work helped drag Wisconsin into a legal morass last decade appears to now be on the payroll of the Texas Legislature as lawmakers work to redraw maps that will determine the distribution of political power for years to come. The operative, Adam Foltz, was part of the team that helped craft Wisconsin’s legislative maps after Republicans took control of that state Legislature in 2010. Foltz played a key role in a tight-lipped and questionable redrawing process that shut out Democrats and drew the condemnation of federal judges who described it as “needlessly secret,” according to court records.

Washington Weekly WA Newspaper Fined $15,000 for Selling Election Coverage
Crosscut – Melissa Santos | Published: 9/28/2021

The Tacoma Weekly agreed to pay a $15,000 fine for telling candidates last year they could buy a news story, and even the newspaper’s editorial endorsement, as part of a  $2,500 advertising package. Accepting money in exchange for story placement or positive coverage goes against journalistic standards of ethics. But beyond that, it also violates Washington state law, which forbids news outlets from soliciting money in exchange for “an endorsement, article, or other communication in the news media promoting or opposing a candidate.”

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