News You Can Use Digest - October 20, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

October 20, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 20, 2023


Gag Order on Trump in Election Case Leaves More Hard Questions

DNyuz – Charlie Savage and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 10/17/2023

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan’s gag order against Donald Trump is the first major consequence of his life as a criminal defendant. But in some ways, the order raises more questions than it answers, including how the judge intends to enforce her restrictions. Chutkan ruled Trump’s pretrial attacks on potential witnesses and others threatened the integrity of the upcoming trial on charges stemming from his effort to subvert the 2020 election. She barred Trump from continuing to publicly berate special counsel Jack Smith and his team, court staff, or any “reasonably foreseeable witness.”

Trump Lawyer Acknowledged Political Agenda in Election Suit, Emails Show

DNyuz – Maggie Haberman and Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 10/8/2023

Kenneth Chesebro and other lawyers fighting to reverse then-President Trump’s election defeat were debating whether to file litigation contesting Joe Bidens victory in Wisconsin. Chesebro argued there was little doubt the litigation would fail in court as Trump continued to push his baseless claims of widespread fraud. But the “relevant analysis is political,” Chesebro argued. Trump has signaled one of his possible defenses is that he was simply acting on the advice of his lawyers. But Chesebro’s emails could undercut any effort to show the lawyers were focused solely on legal strategies.

Amazon’s Alexa Has Been Claiming the 2020 Election Was Stolen

MSN – Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 10/7/2023

Amid concerns that the rise of artificial intelligence will supercharge the spread of misinformation comes a wild fabrication from a more commonplace source: Amazon’s Alexa, which declared the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Asked about fraud in the race, the popular voice assistant said it was “stolen by a massive amount of election fraud,” citing Rumble, a video-streaming service favored by conservatives. Alexa disseminates misinformation about the race even as Amazon promotes the tool as a reliable election news source to more than 70 million estimated users.

Pence Campaign Sputters Amid Money Troubles, Staff Cuts and Low Enthusiasm

MSN – Meryl Kornfield and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 10/19/2023

Four months after launching his presidential campaign with an embrace of traditional conservatism and a rejection of his former running mate Donald Trump, Mike Pence now stands at a difficult crossroads. Plagued by financial problems, low polling numbers, and a message that has not resonated with the party base, he has been forced to confront tough realities this fall about the future of his campaign.

Sen. Bob Menendez Charged with Conspiring to Act as Foreign Agent

MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 10/12/2023

Sen. Robert Menendez was charged in a superseding federal indictment with conspiracy by a public official to act as a foreign agent, intensifying the legal peril the veteran lawmaker faces as he continues to resist calls to resign. Menendez; his wife, Nadine Menendez; and an associate, Wael Hana, were charged with conspiring to have Sen. Menendez act as an illegal foreign agent on behalf of the Egyptian government while he was serving as a U.S. senator with access to sensitive intelligence as the former head of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Campaign of Rep. George Santos Refunds More Money Than It Raises

MSN – Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 10/16/2023

The campaign of scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. George Santos reported refunding more money to donors than it raised during the past three months, raising questions about how seriously he is pursuing reelection. The paltry fundraising figures are not typical for incumbents running in swing districts at this point in the election cycle, particularly when multiple challengers have already announced campaigns.

Former IRS Contractor Pleads Guilty to Leaking Trump’s Tax Returns

MSN – Salvador Rizzo (Washington Post) | Published: 10/12/2023

A financial consultant who performed contract work for the IRS pleaded guilty to leaking confidential tax returns filed by the wealthiest Americans, including those of then-President Trump. Charles Littlejohn admitted he obtained thousands of individuals’ tax returns by accessing an IRS database, and then leaked the materials to the New York Times and ProPublica beginning in 2019. The news organizations showed how Trump and others employed strategies to slash their federal tax bills, in some cases down to zero.

Special Counsel Jack Smith Pulls Subpoena Over Pro-Trump Fundraising

MSN – Josh Dawsey, Perry Stein, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 10/17/2023

Special counsel Jack Smith withdrew a subpoena seeking records about fundraising by the PAC Save America, a group that is controlled by former President Trump and whose activities related to efforts to block the results of the 2020 presidential election have come under investigation. The move indicates Smith is scaling back at least part of his inquiry into the political fundraising work that fed and benefited from unfounded claims the election was stolen.

How Conservative Media Figures Helped to Fuel the GOP Speaker Chaos

MSN – Sarah Ellison and Will Sommer (Washington Post) | Published: 10/17/2023

Fox News host Sean Hannity’s extensive effort to personally whip up votes for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan in his bid to be House speaker highlights the central role right-wing media has played in the drama over who will wield the speaker’s gavel. At each turn, conservative media figures such as Hannity and Stephen Bannon injected high-profile disruption into a process that normally plays out behind the scenes. A handful of backbench lawmakers have seized the opportunity to flex their power in a nearly evenly split chamber, creating drama but offering little direction.

Conservative Companies Create Parallel Economy as Polarization Thrives

Yahoo News – Julia Shapero (The Hill) | Published: 10/18/2023

As a growing number of businesses lean into their conservative values or credentials to appeal to consumers, some have suggested that a “parallel economy” is emerging. These political appeals have become increasingly important to American consumers amid growing political polarization, said Nailya Ordabayeva of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. As consumers’ politics have influenced their purchasing decisions, companies have sought to tap into these political identities, and these efforts are not unique to the right, Ordabayeva said.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Lavish Trip for Group of Conservative MPs in Ethics Spotlight

CBC – Elizabeth Thompson | Published: 10/16/2023

A pricey trip for a group of Conservative Members of Parliament sponsored by a special interest group and a Hungarian think-tank could soon come under the microscope by the House of Commons ethics committee. The trip to London took place last June and was sponsored by Canadians for Affordable Energy and the Danube Institute. Billed as an opportunity to discuss energy policy, the trip included thousands of dollars in flights, hotels, and ground transportation as well as a dinner at the Guinea Grill with $600 bottles of champagne that totaled an estimated $6,262.

Alaska – Alaska Attorney General Approves Free Legal Defense for Top Officials Accused of Ethical Lapses

Frontiersman – James Brooks (Alaska Beacon) | Published: 10/17/2023

The state of Alaska will provide legal representation for its governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in ethics complaints filed against those top officials. Current policy allows the state to reimburse top officials for privately hired legal defense under certain circumstances, including in cases where the officials are exonerated. Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills said that is more expensive than using in-house counsel.

Arkansas – Arkansas Lawmakers OK Plan to Audit Purchase of $19,000 Lectern for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

MSN – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 10/12/2023

Arkansas lawmakers voted to audit the purchase of a $19,000 lectern for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, delving into an unusual controversy that has prompted questions about the seemingly high cost of the item and claims the governor’s office violated the state’s open-records law. The executive committee of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee also voted to audit the governor’s travel and security expenditures that were retroactively shielded from public release under a new Freedom of Information Act exemption Sanders signed in September.

California – Orange Could Start Requiring Lobbyists to Register with the City

MSN – Michael Slaton (Orange County Register) | Published: 10/12/2023

The Orange City Council is exploring whether to start requiring lobbyists to register and report their actions to the city. The effort is largely to prevent impropriety and promote transparency, officials said, but was also inspired by the recent Anaheim corruption saga. The city council is creating an ad hoc committee to explore the proposed law and update campaign finance laws.

California – California Governor Vetoes Bill Requiring Independent Panels to Draw Local Voting Districts

MSN – David Lieb (Associated Press) | Published: 10/9/2023

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation that would have required dozens of his state’s largest cities, counties, and educational districts to use independent commissions to draw voting districts. California’s local redistricting methods came under scrutiny last year following a leaked recording of a private discussion among several Los Angeles City Council members. The officials, all Latino Democrats, used crude and racist comments while plotting to bolster their political power at the expense of Black voters.

California – San Francisco Homeowners Say They Were Duped into Paying a Now-Disgraced Building Inspector

San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 10/17/2023

Manh Chau was renovating his dream house in San Francisco when his contractor, Kelvin Zeng, asked him to cut a check for $5,000. Zeng told him to write the name “Bernie Curran” on the check, according to Chau. What Chau did not know at the time was Bernie Curran was not a subcontractor as he had assumed. Curran was a senior building inspector who, just a day after Chau dated the check, inspected his house, court. Now, Curran is about to begin a stint in federal prison after pleading guilty in two separate criminal cases over his financial ties to various property owners in the city.

California – Anaheim Considers an Ethics Officer in Fallout of City Hall Corruption Scandal

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 10/18/2023

An ethics officer could soon start having some sort of oversight role in Anaheim in the aftermath of one of the biggest public corruption scandals to hit Orange County. City council members unanimously voted to create an ethics officer position and have staff come back with options to explore what exactly that person’s responsibilities will be. Creating an ethics officer position to oversee the city’s lobbyist registration and campaign finance was one of several recommendations that investigators made to the city in a report on the scandal.

Florida – One Mystery Solved: Dolphins subsidiary partly behind Mayor Suarez’s $30k F1 weekend

Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey and Joey Flechas (Miami Herald) | Published: 10/13/2023

A company tied to the Miami Dolphins and team owner Stephen Ross, a billionaire with business before the city, gave Mayor Francis Suarez a $3,500 Formula 1 ticket, a newly filed gift disclosure revealed. It is the latest in a drip-drip of information revealing the sources behind Suarez’s $30,000 Grand Prix weekend in May, which is at the center of an ongoing state ethics investigation into whether the mayor violated Florida gifts laws.

Georgia – Sidney Powell Pleads Guilty in Case Over Efforts to Overturn Trump’s Georgia Loss and Gets Probation

Associated Press News – Kate Brumback | Published: 10/19/2023

Lawyer Sidney Powell pleaded guilty to reduced charges over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election in Georgia, becoming the second defendant in the case to reach a deal with prosecutors. Powell, who was charged with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law, entered the plea just a day before jury selection was set to start in her trial. She pleaded guilty to six misdemeanors accusing her of conspiring to intentionally interfere with the performance of election duties.

Illinois – What Do Recent Illinois Corruption Trials Have in Common? State Rep. Bob Rita as a Witness.

Chicago Sun-Times – Robert Herguth | Published: 10/13/2023

Three recent public corruption cases in Illinois shared a common element: state Rep. Bob Rita as a prosecution witness. Rita has not found out yet whether he will be asked to testify in a fourth trial, that of former House Speaker Michel Madigan. Unlike some witnesses in the trials, Rita has neither been charged with any crime nor compelled to testify under a grant of immunity from prosecution. He has been subpoenaed to testify at the request of federal prosecutors about the Illinois General Assembly’s inner workings and Madigan;s close aides.

Illinois – Ald. Jim Gardiner Hit with $20,000 Fine for Ethics Violations

Yahoo News – A.D. Quig (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 10/16/2023

The Chicago Board of Ethics fined Ald. Jim Gardiner $20,000 after he was accused of retaliating against a constituent and vocal critic by directing city staff to issue bogus citations that could have forced the man to pay more than $600 in fines. In all, the board said Gardiner violated the ethics code on 10 separate occasions. The city inspector general’s office has only successfully pursued a probable cause finding in 13 ethics investigations and Gardiner was the first who was a sitting city council member.

Louisiana – City Council Ousts Top Cantrell Aide for Breaking Campaign Finance Laws During Recall

New Orleans Advocate – John Stanton | Published: 10/17/2023

The New Orleans City Council ousted Gregory Joseph, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s communications director and close advisor, for incompetence, neglecting his duties, and violating campaign finance laws, among other charges. In order to block Joseph from being rehired immediately after being fired, the council voted to suspend Joseph without pay from employment by the city for the remainder of Cantrell’s term.

Maine – State Ethics Director Recommends Against Investigating Senate President’s House Purchase

Yahoo News – Eric Russell (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 10/18/2023

The executive director of Maine’s ethics commission said he does not see sufficient grounds to investigate claims that Senate President Troy Jackson violated campaign finance laws in connection with his purchase of a house. Members could still vote to investigate Jackson, but they would be doing so against the recommendation of Jonathan Wayne. A complaint concerned Jackson’s purchase of a home in Augusta in 2019 while representing a district in Aroostook County. It questioned whether he violated the Legislature’s residency rules or falsely pledged to make the home his primary residence.

Maryland – 1776 Project PAC Fined $20,000 for Texts Sent to Carroll Voters on Behalf of Battaglia, Miller, Whisler

MSN – Thomas Goodwin Smith (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 10/12/2023

The 1776 Project PAC, which financially supported Tara Battaglia, James Miller, and Steve Whisler during the 2022 campaign for the Carroll County School Board, was fined $20,250 for failing to identify itself as having paid for 13,879 text messages sent to voters. Maryland law requires campaign messages sent on behalf of candidates to state who paid for the information to be distributed. This includes yard signs, pamphlets, and digital advertisements.

Massachusetts – Bill Aims to Expose ‘Dark Money’ at Town Meetings

Martha’s Vineyard Times – Staff | Published: 10/18/2023

A new bill was filed to counter the influence of what the sponsors are calling “dark money” in town meetings. Massachusetts campaign finance law requires disclosure for any group that receives contributions to oppose or promote a ballot question or influence an election. Candidates for state and local public offices must also follow strict requirements. But these disclosure and transparency requirements do not currently apply to groups seeking to influence issues addressed at town meetings, and do not appear before voters on the ballots, such as warrant articles.

Massachusetts – This Boston City Council Candidate Has More Than $100,000 in His Coffers. His Campaign Says He Didn’t Raise a Single Cent of It.

MSN – Danny McDonald (Boston Globe) | Published: 10/19/2023

John FitzGerald’s day job as a deputy director at the Boston Planning & Development Agency may hamstring him from personally raising funds for his city council bid, but it has not stopped his campaign from amassing $109,000, a hefty haul for this kind of race. State ethics law is clear: public employees cannot receive “directly or indirectly, any contribution or anything of value for any political purpose.” But they may run for office, as long as a committee is organized to raise money on their behalf. FitzGerald said he “never solicited a donation for his campaign.”

Massachusetts – Abhijit Das, Ex-Congressional Candidate, Convicted of Breaking Campaign

MSN – Ryan Mancici (MassLive) | Published: 10/14/2023

Abhijit Das, who ran for a U.S. House in Massachusetts, was convicted of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act and making false statements. Among the allegations was that Das inflated his fundraising numbers with a scheme “to solicit personal loans from friends and close associates in excess of the $2,700 legal limit,” prosecutors said. Das also used $267,000 of campaign funds to pay debts for his hotel business relating to vendors.

Massachusetts – Mass. Gets Top Grade for 2020 Redistricting

Salem News – Christian Wade | Published: 10/16/2023

The home state of “gerrymandering” received a top ranking from Common Cause for its once-every-decade legislative redistricting process. Massachusetts got an “A-” grade, tied with California in the highest-in-the nation ranking. Massachusetts got high marks for having a strong coalition of voting access groups participating in the redistricting process, increasing minority representation in the state Legislature, and holding regular public hearings to discuss changes.

Michigan – Michigan Democrats Vowed Transparency Reforms. Now, They Say Maybe Next Year

Bridge Michigan – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 10/18/2023

Michigan is poised to end the year the same way it began, as one of only two states to fully exempt both the governor’s office and Legislature from public, which the Legislature must finalize by the end of this year under a ballot measure voters approved in 2022. But Democrats are punting on other promised transparency reforms until at least next year, including expansion of the Freedom of Information Act and tighter lobbying rules.

Michigan – Two Lobbyists Get Prison Time for Michigan Medical Marijuana Corruption Scheme

Detroit Free Press – Arpan Lobo | Published: 10/18/2023

Brian Pierce, a former lobbyist who pleaded guilty to participating in a corruption scheme in Michigan’s now-defunct medical marijuana licensing agency, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Vincent Brown, the other lobbyist to plead guilty in the scheme, was sentenced to 20 months in prison. They both pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery, after the federal government accused them of providing $42,000 in cash bribes and other benefits to former House Speaker Rick Johnson during his time as chair of the former Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board.

Mississippi – Black Voters Fuel Democratic Hopes in Deep-Red Mississippi

Yahoo News – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 11/17/2023

Just three years ago, Mississippi had an election law on its books from 1890 constitutional that was designed to uphold “white supremacy” in the state. The law created a system for electing statewide officials that drastically reduced the political power of Black voters. Voters overturned the law in 2020. This summer, an appeals court threw out another law that had permanently stripped voting rights from people convicted of a range of felonies. Now Mississippi is holding its first election for governor since those laws fell, the contest is improbably competitive in this deep-red state, and Black voters are poised to play a critical role.

Nevada – Nevada Lawmakers Funded Nonprofits; How and Why a Firestorm of Controversy Followed

Nevada Independent – Tabitha Mueller and Eric Neugeboren | Published: 10/15/2023

Several Nevada Democrats have found themselves in the political crosshairs for helping pass two bills in the final days of the legislative session that awarded $110 million in state funds to their nonprofit employers and dozens of other community groups. Lawmakers with connections to the organizations they voted to fund noted guidance they received from the Legislature’s legal division, which maintained the votes are not a conflict-of-interest because the legislation affects the average Nevadan just as much as lawmakers.

New Hampshire – A 15-Year-Old Known for Tough Questions Was Kicked Out of a GOP Event

MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 10/16/2023

Quinn Mitchell is not a journalist, political strategist, or even a voter. He is a 15-year-old high school freshman who, despite his age, has become a fixture on the New Hampshire presidential campaign circuit. His consistent presence and pointed questions at town halls and rallies led former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to describe him as “America’s most famous political teenager.” Quinn was recently kicked out of the state GOP’s First in the Nation Leadership Summit after a volunteer accused him of being a Democratic operative.

New Jersey – The Real Estate Tycoon Whose Fingerprints Are on the Menendez Indictment

DNyuz – Elise Young and Tracey Tully (New York Times) | Published: 10/16/2023

Fred Daibes, the real estate tycoon at the center of an international scandal threatening the career of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, has found his way out of more than one tough spot over the course of his tumultuous life. In 2018, federal indictment accusing him of scheming to defraud a bank he had founded threatened to upend his real estate empire and carried the risk of a lengthy prison term. It was then, prosecutors say, that he turned to a longtime ally for help: Sen. Menendez. What followed would form the basis for federal charges that Daibes, Menendez and his wife, and two other businesspeople are now facing.

New York – Can New York’s Mayor Speak Mandarin? No, but with AI He’s Making Robocalls in Different Languages

ABC News – Anthony Izaguirre (Associated Press) | Published: 10/17/2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has been using artificial intelligence (AI) to make robocalls that contort his own voice into several languages he does not actually speak, posing new ethical questions about the government’s use of the rapidly evolving technology. The mayor said the robocalls have gone out in languages such as Mandarin and Yiddish to promote city hiring events. They have not included any disclosure that he only speaks English, or the calls were generated using AI.

Ohio – Ohio’s Redistricting Process Gets an ‘F’ from National Group

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 10/12/2023

Ohio’s redistricting process received a failing grade from Common Cause, which deemed the state;s congressional and legislative maps to be “unmitigated disasters” overall. The report noted how Ohio residents last year voted on the state’s congressional delegation and most of the state Legislature using district lines that were found to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered by the state Supreme Court.

Oklahoma – Ethics Commission Job Posting Redone, Legislature Asked to Triple Budget

NonDoc – Michael McNutt | Published: 10/16/2023

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted to extend the search for its next executive director after the state’s attorney general claimed the search “process has been irreparably flawed and must be started anew.” Commissioners also approved a budget request for the 2025 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2024. The request, more than three times the amount the agency received this year, will be presented to the Oklahoma Legislature for consideration during next year’s regular session.

Pennsylvania – The Ethics Board Is Appealing a Ruling That Dismissed Its Case Against a Super PAC That Backed Jeff Brown for Mayor

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 10/19/2023

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics appealed a court ruling that dismissed its high-profile lawsuit against the super PAC that backed Jeff Brown’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor. The board in April sent shockwaves through the mayor’s race when it sued For A Better Philadelphia, which spent millions of dollars to boost Brown as he sought the Democratic nomination. The board accused the super PAC of illegally coordinating with Brown because he raised money for the group in the months leading up to the launch of his campaign in November 2022.

Texas – El Paso City Council Advances Plan for Broader Political Contribution Reporting

MSN – Adam Powell (El Paso Times) | Published: 10/13/2023

The El Paso City Council advanced a plan that would increase transparency around political contributions but stopped short of acting on a proposed cap on donations. The council voted direct city staff to draft an ordinance that would require disclosure of donors who contributed $500 or more and might benefit from council actions.

West Virginia – DOT Head Claims No Conflict of Interest from Agency Contracts with Firm Employing His Son Before State Lawmakers

Charleston Gazette-Mail – Mike Tony | Published: 10/17/2023

West Virginia Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Jimmy Wriston suggested there is no conflict-of-interest nor appearance of one stemming from the relationship between his agency and a firm the agency contracts with that employs his son. Wriston signed two contracts for the Division of Highways to pay over $25.7 million to the firm, Michael Baker International. At the time, Wriston was deputy commissioner of the Division of Highways. Gov. Jim Justice named Wriston DOT secretary and DOH commissioner in October 2021.

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