October 13, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – October 13, 2023
ABC News – Jake Offenhartz (Associated Press) | Published: 10/5/2023
The ex-treasurer for U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge and implicated Santos in a scheme to embellish his campaign finance reports with a fake loan and fake donors. Nancy Marks, who was a close aide to Santos during his two congressional bids, is a longtime political operative and bookkeeper for multiple candidates.
ABC News – Katherine Faulders, Alexander Mallin, and Mike Levine | Published: 10/5/2023
Months after leaving the White House, former President Trump allegedly discussed potentially sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines with a member of his Mar-a-Lago Club – an Australian billionaire who then allegedly shared the information with scores of others, including more than a dozen foreign officials, several of his own employees, and a handful of journalists. Prosecutors and FBI agents have at least twice this year interviewed Anthony Pratt, who runs one of the world’s largest packaging companies.
MSN – Gopal Ratnam (Roll Call) | Published: 10/11/2023
A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban the “distribution of materially deceptive AI-generated audio or visual media” about individuals seeking federal office. Civil rights groups, political consultants, free-speech advocates, and lawmakers across the political spectrum have agreed that the use of AI-generated deceptive ads poses risks to the democratic process by misleading voters. The trouble, though, is figuring out where to draw the line on what constitutes deception, or how to enforce prohibitions.
MSN – Marianna Sotomayor, Leigh Ann Caldwell, and Jaqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 10/11/2023
House Republicans were on the verge of open revolt after the ideologically fractious conference failed to coalesce around a speaker nominee, leaving the chamber rudderless and leaderless. The inability of Republicans to agree on who will lead them has left the chamber in an effective standstill since Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker, unable to consider any legislation to aid Israel in its war against Hamas or pass any appropriation bills to avoid a potential government shutdown. Neither issue produced enough urgency for Republicans to quickly elect a speaker as many had hoped, again highlighting the conference’s deep divisions.
MSN – Matt Durot (Forbes) | Published: 10/10/2023
Charles Koch is making big moves to ensure his charities and causes are funded long after he is gone. Koch, who is worth $54.5 billion, said that over the last four years he has transferred $5.3 billion of his conglomerate’s nonvoting stock to a pair of nonprofits with fewer restrictions on lobbying and politics than traditional charities. Koch did not make gifts of his company stock directly to the Stand Together nonprofit network. Instead, he chose groups that support the network and are allowed to directly engage in political campaigns and to do an unlimited amount of issue lobbying, as long as those are not their primary activities).
MSN – Tyler Pager and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 10/9/2023
President Biden was interviewed over the last two days as part of the investigation led by special counsel Robert Hur into the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s private office and Delaware home. When appointing Hur to lead the probe, Attorney General Merrick Garland cited the “extraordinary circumstances” of the Justice Department investigating the president as he considered a reelection bid. Biden formally launched his reelection campaign months later.
MSN – Anumita Kaur (Washington Post) | Published: 10/10/2023
A superseding indictment charges U.S. Rep. George Santos with stealing the identities of family members and using donors’ credit cards to spend thousands of dollars, intensifying the legal peril facing Santos five months after he was charged with a host of other financial crimes. The most recent indictment accuses Santos of running two fraudulent schemes during the 2022 election cycle, in addition to the other shams alleged in May.
Seattle Times – Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 10/7/2023
Americans are increasingly fracturing as a people, and some are taking the extraordinary step of moving to escape a political or social climate they abhor. Democrats have left red states as Republicans have moved out of blue states, often over views on issues like abortion, transgender rights, school curricula, guns, race, and other matters. While there is no precise count of how many Americans have relocated because of politics and social issues, interviews with demographers and people who have moved or are considering moving, as well as a review of social media postings and polling, show the phenomenon is real.
Yahoo News – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 10/11/2023
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is facing allegations he and his wife accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes. In exchange, he allegedly used his influence to protect three businesspeople and benefit the government of Egypt. The new criminal charges against Menendez have invited scrutiny of the legal ways money may influence public policy, including political contributions and lobbying. Paul Miller, founding partner at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, takes issue with tying lobbyists to the Menendez case, which centers on alleged bribery by businesspeople who are not registered lobbyists.
Yahoo News – Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 10/12/2023
Among the bold claims in a recent motion filed by Donald Trump seeking to dismiss the federal indictment accusing him of conspiring to undermine the 2020 election, there was a significant concession. The key U.S. Supreme Court precedent the motion relied on for claiming “absolute immunity” from criminal prosecution, his lawyers acknowledged, did not address criminal prosecutions. Should Trump lose in the trial court and on appeal, there is every reason to think he will ask the Supreme Court to step in.
Yahoo News – Brittany Gibson and Madison Fernandez (Politico) | Published: 10/5/2023
A company at the center of the Democratic Party’s digital strategy is on the verge of a meltdown, sparking alarm among a broad constellation of liberal groups that are relying on it ahead of 2024. NGP VAN provides tools used by Democrats, from the White House to local school boards, to raise money and mobilize voters. But with new management in recent years, it has been stripping its operations to the bare bones.
From the States and Municipalities
MSN – Joseph Bryant (AL.com) | Published: 10/12/2023
As he makes his first court appearance in his federal corruption case, state Rep. John Rogers says he is ready to fight the charges and seek another term in the Alabama Legislature. A grand jury charged Rogers with obstruction in a kickback scheme involving public money from the Jefferson County Community Service fund, a collection of tax dollars that local lawmakers get to dole out to local causes. Prosecutors allege Rogers attempted to bribe someone to lie to investigators about the scheme by promising them additional public money.
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro and Madison Fernandez (Politico) | Published: 10/5/2023
A federal court picked Alabama’s new congressional map, which will likely result in an additional Black – and Democratic – member in the delegation. The new map came after the same panel of federal judges twice found that lines drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislature likely violated the Voting Rights Act by weakening the power of Black voters. The new lines will be used for at least the 2024 elections, though Alabama Republicans have vowed to fight them for future cycles.
MSN – Yvonne Winget Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 10/5/2023
If the 2024 presidential election is close in Arizona, a newly enacted state law will mandate a ballot recount that will probably cause the state to miss crucial deadlines for certifying the vote. The battleground state is expected to play a pivotal role in the next presidential election and any holdup in counting votes there could cause chaos.
Yahoo News – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 10/10/2023
Arkansas Gov, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is facing new and deepening questions after newly released public records revealed her office bought a lectern for $19,000 and a whistle-blower accused the office of altering records to cover up the spending. The Arkansas Republican Party paid for the lectern in September, but the words “to be reimbursed” were only added later to the original invoice. The undated reimbursement note adds to weeks of scrutiny over the purchase. A legislative panel is expected to vote on a request for an audit of the lectern’s purchase.
MSN – Frank Stoltze (LAist) | Published: 10/10/2023
Outrage followed the release in 2022 of a secretly recorded audio tape of some Los Angeles City Council members making racist and derogatory remarks. The audio was from a meeting where four council members were discussing how to redraw council district boundaries in a way that would maintain their power. For weeks, council meetings were marked by loud, angry protests that often shut down the proceedings. In the year since the tapes were leaked, the fallout from the scandal has fundamentally changed City Hall.
California – SF Government Watchdogs Eye New Ethics Regulations
San Francisco Examiner – Adam Shanks | Published: 10/11/2023
More than three years after a corruption scandal swept through San Francisco City Hall, the Ethics Commission will see its broad proposal for reforms finally land on the ballot. The measure. set to appear before voters in March 2024, would set new restrictions on accepting gifts and expand ethics training for city employees. In the meantime, the Ethics Commission is already contemplating regulations on thorny topics such as city employees’ ability to manage companies that contract with their own departments.
Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey, and Tess Riski (Miami Herald) | Published: 10/5/2023
When a reporter asked Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to comment on billionaire Ken Griffin’s controversial plan to relocate a historic home from his $106 million bayfront estate and turn it into a tourist attraction, the mayor expressed his full support. But Suarez’s sentiments were scripted, word for word, by Griffin’s spokesperson, who gave them to the city, emails indicate. The mayor’s office then presented the statement as Suarez’s own words to the Miami Herald.
MSN – Kevin Sullivan and Clara Ence Morse (Washington Post) | Published: 10/7/2023
Illinois Democrats used their supermajority to redraw congressional district lines in a way that would strengthen their already solid lock on power. The strategy worked, adding one Democratic seat to the Illinois delegation, and trimming two Republican ones as GOP voters were packed into a smaller number of districts. The new map also accomplished what experts say gerrymandering does with ruthless efficiency, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are responsible: hollowing out the moderate political center and driving both parties further toward the ideological fringes.
MSN – Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 10/11/2023
In a departure from usual practices at City Hall, Chicago’s $100,000 settlement agreement with whistleblowers who were fired by Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin prohibits them from publicly discussing their negative experiences in her office. Of more than three dozen settlements reached with city workers over the past five years, the deal that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration reached with the treasurer’s ex-employees was the only one that contained what amounts to a gag order. In a handful of cases, former employees agreed not to discuss the terms of their settlements, but they could still speak freely about their time in city government.
Yahoo Finance – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 10/11/2023
James Weiss, the son-in-law of former Cook County Democratic boss Joseph Berrios, was sentenced to five-and-one-half years in prison, bringing an end to a bribery case centered on the shady world of sweepstakes gaming with elements of political corruption, a state senator turned government mole, and even alleged mob ties. In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Seeger decried Chicago’s long history of public corruption, saying cases like Weiss’ cause people to “roll their eyes” when they meet someone from Chicago.
MSN – Tyler Pager and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 10/6/2023
The Democratic Party officially dislodged Iowa from its prized status as the first state in the presidential nominating process, approving the state Democratic Party’s plan to release their results on Super Tuesday next year. The decision ends a nearly two-year fight over Iowa’s place in selecting a Democratic nominee, which resulted in a complete overhaul of the calendar.
WDRB – Marcus Green | Published: 10/10/2023
Metro government’s ethics agency is suing Louisville and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, claiming it does not have total control over its own records as local law requires. The lawsuit argues the mayor-appointed Louisville Metro Ethics Commission is :at the mercy” of Metro government and its open records personnel to fulfill those requests under Kentucky law. As a result, the suit alleges, some records have been made public without the commission’s input, while it is not known if documents have been withheld.
Killeen Daily – Craig Mauger (Detroit News) | Published: 9/30/2023
The Michigan Republican Party had about $35,000 in its bank accounts in August, according to internal records that flash new warning signs about the dire state of the GOP’s finances and raise questions about whether the organization is complying with campaign finance laws. The party has regularly transferred money from an account that is usually focused on federal elections to other accounts to afford expenses. Earlier this year, the party’s federal account was loaned $15,000 after that account’s balance turned negative. The transaction was not reported in disclosures from the campaign or the party’s federal committee.
Helena Independent Record – Seaborn Larson | Published: 10/11/2023
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus dismissed an ethics complaint regarding Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras’ rental agreement with a religious advocacy group. Gallus found the complaint filed by state Democrats failed to articulate a violation and instead urged his office to investigate the party’s suspicions. The Montana Democratic Party asserted Juras was given a lease agreement below market rate for a rental home owned by the Montana Family Institute. That organization is closely aligned with the Montana Family Foundation, a longtime proponent of conservative causes.
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 10/10/2023
A state appeals court said New York’s ethics panel can remain in operation as it seeks to overturn a lower court decision that determined its structure violates the state constitution. The appeals court’s decision comes a month after a state Supreme Court justice ruled the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government was created in violation of the constitution and must suspend its work.
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell and Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 10/10/2023
Thousands of pages of court documents prepared by New York Attorney General Letitia James as evidence in the fraud case she has filed against Donald Trump show how accounting, banking, and real estate experts repeatedly informed Trump how much his properties and businesses were really worth. But over and over again, the documents reveal that Trump, his adult sons, and top executives allegedly ignored or sidelined those experts, exchanging their figures for numbers from another source: Trump’s own intuition.
The City – Greg Smith | Published: 10/10/2023
A tow company owner who raised money for New York City Mayor Eric Adams and faces bribery charges tied to his interactions with a former top mayoral aide has been enmeshed in scandals dating back 25 years, including one in which prosecutors alleged his company was controlled by the Genovese crime family. Mazzio was indicted on charges of bribing aide Eric Ulrich. In exchange for cash and New York Mets tickets, prosecutors allege Ulrich got Mazzio access to Adams’ chief advisor and a dinner with the mayor.
MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 10/10/2023
Republican lawmakers overrode North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that overhauls who runs elections and achieves a long-sought goal of the state GOP. The legislation creates bipartisan boards that could deadlock on establishing early voting locations or certifying results in a state that may prove crucial in next year’s presidential election. Republicans contend the bill helps guarantee elections will be run fairly by establishing bipartisan election boards that will take politics out of the process.
MSN – Annie Gowan (Washington Post) | Published: 10/6/2023
In state after state since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats and their abortion rights allies have won victories over Republicans and others who oppose abortion. The latest battleground is Ohio, where a GOP supermajority has fought to consolidate its power in ways that critics, and even some within the party, say threatens democracy.
MSN – Samantha Hendrickson (Associated Press) | Published: 10/11/2023
A schism between House Republicans appears to only be widening after a rival GOP-contingent sued fellow conservative Speaker Jason Stephens to seize control of over $1 million in campaign money from the Ohio House Republican Alliance and its coffers that fund campaigns for state GOP legislators. The lawsuit argues Rep. Derek Merrin is the leader of the alliance after a closed-door vote by the majority of the House Republican caucus earlier this year. Therefore, he leads the alliance and has authority over distributing its funds, which are expected to grow as campaign season revs up.
WVXU – Nick Swartsell | Published: 10/10/2023
Former Cincinnati City Councilperson P.G. Sittenfeld will spend 16 months in prison, one year on probation, and pay a $40,000 fine on corruption charges. A jury found Sittenfeld guilty on one charge of bribery and one charge of extortion in 2022. At the center of Sittenfeld’s conviction are allegations he received $20,000 from undercover FBI agents.
MSN – Moriah Balingit (Washington Post) | Published: 10/9/2023
A state board in Oklahoma approved a contract with St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, bringing the institution one step closer to becoming the first publicly funded religious charter school in the nation. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted for the contract despite opposition from the state’s attorney general and a lawsuit that seeks to stop the school from opening. If the school opens, it would represent a new model in education: a tuition-free school with a religious curriculum that is funded largely with taxpayer dollars.
KGW – Jamie Parfitt | Published: 10/11/2023
A newly released report dives into the role that former Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan played in an audit of the state’s cannabis regulatory agency, completed just before Fagan resigned amid ethics concerns due to her moonlighting work in the cannabis industry. Oregon’s audits division, like its election division, is overseen by the secretary of state. Around the time that Fagan resigned, Gov. Tina Kotek requested that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum conduct an examination of the audits division’s cannabis audit in order to determine if there had been any influence from Fagan’s ties to the industry.
Yahoo News – Alan Torres (Eugene Register-Guard) | Published: 10/7/2023
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint against Michael Selvaggio, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) 555 lobbyist who led the failed recall campaign against state Rep. Paul Holvey. The lawmaker accused Selvaggio of violating state law by filing the recall while House Bill 3183, a priority bill for UFCW that Holvey opposed, was in the House Rules Committee. It is illegal for a lobbyist to influence a legislator’s vote by funding or threatening to fund opposition.
Pennsylvania – Inside a Tangled Web of Pa. Businesses and Big Campaign Cash
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Matt Bernardini and Mike Wereschagin | Published: 10/9/2023
The flood of campaign donations by businessperson Adam Kidan and the access he gained through those contributions to prominent politicians illustrates how top political donors can enter the corridors of power through doors not open to average voters. With critical campaigns next year for president and U.S. Senate, good-government experts worry the use of corporations to dump cash into elections is undermining laws designed to show the public who is behind the most consequential decision-makers in the country.
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 10/11/2023
The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared likely to uphold a Republican-drawn congressional district in South Carolina that a lower court found was racially gerrymandered. The case tests the legal limits of partisan gerrymandering when it intersects with race. The NAACP is accusing GOP lawmakers of drawing the state’s First Congressional District by shuffling Black voters in and out of the district to make it reliably Republican.
MSN – Molly Hennessey-Fiske (Washington Post) | Published: 10/8/2023
A civil war is raging among Texas Republicans. As lawmakers returned to Austin to address school vouchers and border security, that infighting threatens to consume the third special session of the year. The GOP has ruled all three branches of state government for decades, but this year tensions within the party have boiled over into very public battles. “… You have leadership of the Republican Party … trying to fend off challenges from the grassroots, certainly populist wing of the party,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist based in Austin.
Seattle Times – Renata Geraldo | Published: 10/5/2023
Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman violated the Port’s code of ethics by using his position to gain special privileges or exemptions with a nonprofit, the Port Board of Ethics found. Felleman tried using his commissioner status to get involved in the leadership of nonprofit Washington Maritime Blue’s Quiet Sound program. Quiet Sound, partly funded by the Port, seeks to reduce the underwater noise impact of large vessels on orcas. The program’s procedures say nontribal elected officials cannot join its leadership committee.
Yahoo News – Reid Epstein and Julie Bosman (New York Times) | Published: 10/6/2023
The liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the state’s Republican-drawn legislative districts, a decision that could spur impeachment proceedings against a newly elected justice, Janet Protasiewicz, who refused to recuse herself from the case. The decision to accept the case, known as an original action because it means the case will bypass Wisconsin’s trial and appeals courts, comes over the objections of at least two of the court’s three conservative justices and the state’s leading Republicans.
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