News You Can Use Digest - October 27, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

October 27, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 27, 2023


Meadows Granted Immunity, Tells Smith He Warned Trump About 2020 Claims: Sources

ABC News – Katherine Faulders, Mike Levine, and Alexander Mallin | Published: 10/24/2023

Former President Trump’s final chief of staff in the White House, Mark Meadows, has spoken with special counsel Jack Smith’s team at least three times this year, including once before a federal grand jury, which came only after Smith granted Meadows immunity to testify under oath, according to sources familiar with the matter. The sources said Meadows informed Smith’s team that he repeatedly told Trump in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election that the allegations of significant voting fraud coming to them were baseless.

An Unsanctioned Coterie of Pro-Israel Quasi-Lobbyists Has Descended on D.C.

MSN – Hailey Fuchs and Caitlin Oprysko (Politico) | Published: 10/22/2023

An ad hoc group of donors, activists, and allies have moved swiftly to help Israel. They have leveraged their political clout, their relationships with lawmakers, and their fundraising networks to do so. Their goal is to shape how elected officials in the U.S. react to the crisis. But their work also underscores how much of the political fight around the nascent war is being done on the fly; and how much is being waged in unconventional theaters: college campuses, corporate boardrooms, K Street offices. and Capitol Hill restaurants.

New House Speaker Mike Johnson Faces Herculean Task of Uniting Republicans

MSN – Marianna Sotomayor, Amy Wang, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Theodoric Meyer, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

Rep. Mike Johnson, a lesser-known conservative who has been a devoted follower of former President Trump was elected as speaker of the House, reopening the chamber for legislative business after a 21-day paralysis because the fractious Republican conference could not coalesce around a single nominee. Johnson now faces the herculean task of uniting a deeply ideologically fractured conference that is tasked with averting a government shutdown in less than a month, sending supplemental aid to Israel and other foreign countries, and passing reauthorization bills before the end of the year.

Special Counsel Urges Judge to Crack Down Further on Trump’s Comments

MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

Special counsel Jack Smith argued that recent comments by Donald Trump show not only that a federal gag order should be reimposed, but the court should weigh stricter sanctions, including sending him to jail, if he keeps talking about witnesses in his case. The filing was one of four made by the special counsel’s office on a range of legal issues in preparation for Trump’s planned trial on charges he conspired to obstruct Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Trump’s public statements attacking prosecutors, court personnel, and others have raised alarms among judges who worry such broadsides might inspire someone to commit violence.

Clarence Thomas’s RV Loan Was Forgiven, Senate Committee Report Says

MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

Senate Finance Committee Chairperson Ron Wyden called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to tell the panel whether he declared more than $250,000 of loan forgiveness on his tax filings. Wyden released a report that details a loan Thomas received from a friend, Anthony Welters, to buy a luxury Prevost Marathon motor coach in 1999. The report said Thomas made some interest payments on the $267,230 loan, but it was declared settled by Welters in 2008 without Thomas repaying a substantial portion, or perhaps any, of the principal.

Congressman Charged with Pulling False Fire Alarm in House Building

MSN – Peter Hermann and Clarence Williams (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

Rep. Jamaal Bowman was criminally charged with pulling a false fire alarm that forced the evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building as lawmakers scrambled to avert a government shutdown. Bowman was charged in a judicial summons, meaning he was not arrested. In an affidavit filed in court, authorities allege Bowman tried to open an emergency door and, when that failed, pulled a fire alarm and walked away and did not report his actions to police.

Elon Musk’s X Removes New York Times’ Verification Badge

MSN – Drew Harwell (Washington Post) | Published: 10/19/2023

The social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, removed the gold “verified” badge from the New York Times’ account amid ongoing complaints about the news organization from X owner Elon Musk. The badge was the only symbol distinguishing the Times’ 55-million-follower account from impostors amid two major global conflicts in Israel and Ukraine. The move further extends Musk’s attempts to use the social media company he bought with claims of defending free speech to undercut news organizations he dislikes.

Lawsuit Aims to Slam Shut Loophole That Lets Political Parties Skirt Campaign Finance Law

MSN – Kathleen Culliton (Raw Story) | Published: 10/23/2023

A loophole that allows political parties to bypass campaign finance limits now faces a new legal challenge from watchdog groups in Washington D.C. The Campaign Legal Center and OpenSecrets filed a lawsuit against the FEC, which they hope will create new disclosure rules for national political party committee accounts. The loophole links back to the 2014 “Cromnibus” and an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act that allows parties to draw funds from “special purpose accounts,” according to the complaint.

Trump Files New Challenges to Federal Election Obstruction Case in D.C.

MSN – Spencer Hsu and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 10/24/2023

Donald Trump launched a multipronged legal attack on his federal prosecution for allegedly subverting the results of the 2020 election, saying his actions were protected by the First Amendment as political speech and arguing he cannot be tried in criminal court for trying to block Joe Biden’s victory after being impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. While aspects of Trump’s case raise historic legal questions, the motions are fairly typical for criminal defendants trying to challenge the legal sufficiency of the charges against them.

Top Groups’ Lobbying Spending Drops in Divided Congress

MSN – Caitlin Reilly (Roll Call) | Published: 10/23/2023

Total spending on lobbying by the biggest interest groups fell in the first three quarters of 2023 compared to last year amid partisan gridlock in a divided Congress. The dip came as the steady clip of major laws that moved through the last Congress slowed to a trickle this session with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans the House, where GOP leadership has struggled to maintain control of its conference.

How Ron DeSantis’ Super PAC Is Taking Financial Pressure Off His Campaign

NBC News – Alec Hernández and Bridget Bowman | Published: 10/20/2023

With three months to go until the first contest of the Republican nominating race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to lean heavily on Never Back Down for support across the early states, and his most recent campaign finance report demonstrates how the super PAC has helped cover costs that otherwise might have drained DeSantis’s own campaign treasury. Beyond playing an extensive role in the governor’s campaign schedule and travel, the super PAC is also responsible for a large door-knocking operation in Iowa and running a slew of voter coalitions supporting DeSantis.

Appeals Court Upholds Broad Use of Obstruction Law That Prosecutors Have Deployed Against Trump

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 10/20/2023

Federal prosecutors avoided an appeals court ruling that could have upended their criminal prosecution of Donald Trump, but the legal battle will continue over a federal obstruction statute that has become a cornerstone of cases stemming from the storming of the Capitol. A panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled there are numerous ways for the government to prove January 6 defendants acted “corruptly” when seeking to obstruct Congress’ proceedings. A ruling that narrowly construed the meaning of “corruptly” could have derailed the prosecution of Trump on an obstruction charge.

Supreme Court to Decide if Biden Admin Illegally Bullied Social Media into Censoring Content

Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Rebecca Kern (Politico) | Published: 10/20/2023

The Supreme Court will determine whether the Biden administration violated the Constitution when it pressured technology companies to remove from their platforms what federal officials said was false or misleading content about the 2020 election and Covid-19. In taking the case, the justices also blocked the lower court’s injunction that would have barred many types of contact between federal officials and the social media giants. The action means administration officials can keep contacting social media companies for now while the justices weigh the case.

From the States and Municipalities

California – Sacramento Ethics Commission Dismisses Campaign Contribution Complaint after Investigation

Capital Public Radio – Kristin Lam | Published: 10/25/2023

The Sacramento Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against mayoral candidate Flojuane Cofer and found she did not violate a campaign fundraising rule. Voting unanimously, the commission disagreed with part of an independent evaluator’s recommendation on how to deal with the complaint. The investigator found the city’s campaign contribution rules surrounding off-year elections are confusing.

California – Is Anaheim’s Fall of Reform Going to Freeze Over?

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 10/25/2023

Anaheim’s elected officials continue a rollout of reform proposals, but it is unclear how many overhauls will be made to a City Hall hit with one of the biggest corruption scandals in Orange County history. It comes as some Disney-backed city council members question if reforms are needed, like bolstering whistleblower protections, consequences for misconduct by elected officials, decreasing the city manager’s purchasing power, and overhauling lobbyist rules. The discussions come months after independent investigators alleged the city was essentially controlled by lobbyists and Disneyland resort interests.

Colorado – A New Law Has Stricter Regulations for Campaign Finance. What Does That Mean for Pueblo?

Pueblo Chieftan – Anna Lynn Winfrey | Published: 10/23/2023

A new law in Colorado imposes new requirements for how long campaign finance records are kept and sets contribution limits for municipal races. But as a home rule city, Pueblo has the jurisdiction to craft its own regulation on campaign finance. Because of the expected timing of a mayoral runoff race in January, after the bill goes into effect, the city council is expected to vote soon on an ordinance that would effectively freeze the current rules in place. Councilors could adopt more stringent requirements later, if desired.

Florida – Mayor Donna Deegan Approves No-Bid Contract for a Firm That Backed Her Campaign

MSN – David Bauerlein (Florida Times-Union) | Published: 10/24/2023

A company whose owner hosted a campaign event for Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan in January won a no-bid contract worth $300,000 for federal grant-writing, lobbying, and policy development after the city determined no other firm in the nation could provide all those services. The city typically requires competitive bidding, but the Professional Services Evaluation Committee recommended Deegan approve the one-year contract to Langton Consulting without seeking proposals from any other firms.

Florida – Florida Rule Would Limit Talk of ‘Social Issues’ at Public Universities

Yahoo News – Divya Kumar (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 10/23/2023

A proposed regulation aimed at restricting diversity programs and social activism at Florida’s public universities has stirred confusion, with some saying its broadly worded passages could limit free speech. The regulation, when approved, will determine how the state enforces the law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that seeks to gut diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at colleges and universities.

Florida – Florida Ethics Panel Says County Commissioner Steele Can Resume Lobbying for Municipalities

Yahoo News – Dave Berman (Florida Today) | Published: 10/24/2023

Brevard County Commissioner Jason Steele was given the green light to resume his lobbying work. including for municipalities within the county, while he continues to serve as commissioner. The Florida Commission on Ethics approved an advisory opinion from its legal staff that said there currently is nothing illegal about Steele lobbying on behalf of clients, as long as he does not lobby before the county commission and does not use nonpublic information he obtained as a commissioner for his lobbying work.

Georgia – Trump Co-Defendant Kenneth Chesebro Pleads Guilty in Georgia Election Case

MSN – Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 10/20/2023

Kenneth Chesebro, a former lawyer for Donald Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to illegally conspiring to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia, striking a deal in which he will avoid jail time and agreed to provide evidence that could implicate other defendants, including Trump himself. Chesebro pleaded guilty to a single felony count of conspiracy to file false documents. The charge relates to his role organizing slates of pro-Trump electors to meet in seven states where Joe Biden had won.

Georgia – Jenna Ellis Becomes Latest Trump Lawyer to Plead Guilty Over Efforts to Overturn Georgia’s Election

Yahoo News – Will Weissert and Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 10/24/2023

Attorney and conservative media figure Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty to a felony charge over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. Ellis, the fourth defendant in the case to enter into a plea deal, was a vocal part of Trump’s reelection campaign in the last presidential cycle and was charged alongside the Republican former president and 17 others. Ellis pleaded guilty to one felony count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. She had been facing charges of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and soliciting the violation of oath by a public officer, both felonies.

Hawaii – Hawaii Budget Director’s Conflict of Interest: He owns HECO stock

Honolulu Civil Beat – Stewart Yerton | Published: 10/26/2023

Hawaii’s state budget and finance director is facing an ethical dilemma as Gov. Josh Green’s administration works to establish a fund for victims of the Maui wildfires. Luis Salaveria, who is playing a role in planning the fund that would benefit Hawaiian Electric Industries, also owns Hawaiian Electric stock. That should disqualify Salaveria from taking any official action that could affect the company, according to the state ethics code. But what, if anything, Salaveria plans to do to address the situation is unclear.

Hawaii – Hawaii Bribery Scandal Casts a Shadow Over Lahaina’s Ruins

Yahoo News – Blaze Lovell (New York Times) | Published: 10/25/2023

As Maui County recovers from the devastating wildfires that killed at least 99 people, millions of dollars will be spent on rebuilding critical infrastructure using a flawed contract-monitoring system that is marred by bribery and a lack of competition. A recent bribery case prompted some county officials to begin phasing out the use of sole-source contracts, but the practice is still in use in the county. That very little has changed since the bribery scandal was revealed could leave the door open for some contractors to take advantage of the disaster or for government money to be wasted.

Illinois – Illinois Lawmakers Banned Campaign Contributions from Red-Light Camera Companies – Then Accepted Them

Illinois Public Radio – Robert Herguth (Chicago Sun-Times) | Published: 10/20/2023

In May, the General Assembly passed a bill to ban campaign contributions from the red-light camera industry that has been embroiled in a bribery scandal still unfolding in federal court. Among those backing the bill was Illinois Senate President Don Harmon. Less than six weeks later, his campaign accounts accepted two contributions totaling $5,000 from Redspeed Illinois, a contractor operating red-light cameras in a number of Chicago-area municipalities. Bernadette Matthews, executive director of the state elections board, said the new law does not include penalties for violators.

Kentucky – Louisville Metro Councilman Anthony Piagentini Found in Violation of Ethics Rules

MSN – Eleanor McCrary (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 10/19/2023

Louisville Metro’s Ethics Commission found Councilperson Anthony Piagentini in violation of six ethics rules after he was accused of using his city position to land a $40 million grant for the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, which then hired him. The commission also unanimously voted to recommend to the Metro Council that he be removed from his seat, but that decision ultimately lies with his 25 peers. Piagentini also received a penalty of $500 per violation.

Louisiana – Supreme Court Agrees with Delay on Drawing New Louisiana Congressional Map

MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 10/19/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with a delay on proceedings that could lead to creating a second congressional district in Louisiana where Black voters make up a large-enough share of the electorate to have a significant chance of electing their preferred candidate. The justices rejected requests by Black voters challenging a map passed by the state’s Republican-led Legislature to allow a lower court judge to proceed in coming up with a new map. The order indicates that once litigation over the issue is completed, the Legislature might get a chance to draw a revised map.

Maine – Inside Poland Spring’s Hidden Attack on Water Rules It Didn’t Like

Yahoo News – Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times) | Published: 10/24/2023

When Maine lawmakers tried to rein in large-scale access to the state’s freshwater this year, the effort initially gained momentum. Then a Wall Street-backed giant called BlueTriton stepped in. Americans today buy more bottled water than any other packaged drink, and BlueTriton owns many of the nation’s biggest brands. Maine’s bill threatened the company’s access to the groundwater it bottles and sells. The legislation had already gotten a majority vote on the committee and was headed toward the full Legislature, when a lobbyist for BlueTriton proposed an amendment that would eviscerate the entire bill.

Massachusetts – Ryan and Stephanie Fattman Agree to Record Fines to Settle Campaign Finance Cases

Yahoo News – Kinga Borondy (Worcester Telegram & Gazette) | Published: 10/24/2023

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office reached a settlement with stated Sen. Ryan Fattman; his wife, Worcester Registrar of Probate Stephanie Fattman; and members of their campaign committees in the three-year probe into campaign finance irregularities. The settlements to be paid total hundreds of thousands of dollars, the largest amounts ever paid by candidate committees to the state to resolve cases.

Michigan – Financial Disclosures Proposed for Michigan Politicians Are ‘Pretty Weak,’ Advocates Say

MLive – Simon Schuster | Published: 10/25/2023

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a package of legislation that details what state elected officials must include in Michigan’s first-ever financial disclosures. The legislation, while bringing specificity to some areas 2022’s Proposal 1 left vague, also leaves gaps in reporting, exempting public officials from having to disclose some of the very financial benefits that roiled state government in recent scandals. Nicholas Pigeon, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, called the bills “a mixed bag … that is pretty weak compared to the rest of the country.”

Michigan – After Campaign Finance Complaint Against Fouts, City Attorney Files Against Council Foes

MSN – Christina Hall (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 10/25/2023

The Warren city attorney filed state campaign finance complaints against three city council members for comments they made during a council meeting using city equipment, which was broadcast live and is on video on the city’s website. The complaints come days after the secretary of state’s office determined Mayor Jim Fouts may have violated the law by endorsing candidates during his State of the City address.

Missouri – Records Show Missouri House Speaker Charged State for Travel Already Paid for By His Campaign

Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 10/23/2023

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher filed an expense report to be reimbursed for a $1,199.60 plane ticket to the 2023 Uniform Law Commission conference. The House ultimately agreed to pay him the money. But the cost of the ticket did not come out of Plocher’s bank account. It came out of his campaign. Seven months earlier, “Plusher for Missouri” reported paying $1,199.60 for airfare to Hawaii for the conference. A review of Plocher’s expense reports over the years shows the Hawaii expense was not an isolated event.

New Hampshire – Breaking with Longstanding Tradition, Biden Won’t Appear on New Hampshire’s Primary Ballot

Yahoo News – Francesca Chambers (USA Today) | Published: 10/24/2023

President Joe Biden’s name will not be on the New Hampshire primary ballot. Biden has been tussling with the state for nearly a year over its historically early primary date and will not make the trip to Concord to file. In a break with centuries-old tradition, the incumbent president will not appear on the state’s Democratic primary ballot at all, with the national party pledging to discipline candidates who compete in unsanctioned primaries like the one New Hampshire plans to hold.

New Jersey – ‘Phantom Candidates’ in Tough N.J. Legislative Elections? Republicans Call for Investigation.

MSN – Brent Johnson (New Jersey Advance Media) | Published: 10/23/2023

Allegations about a “dark money” group pushing “phantom candidates” have invaded a pair of tense races for the New Jersey Legislature. Republican candidates in the second and fourth districts, two of the most competitive in this year’s elections, have asked top law enforcement officials to investigate a new nonprofit group with a Queens address that sent out campaign mailers to voters urging them to support independent or third-party “conservative” candidates.

New York – ‘A Well-Thought-Out Scheme’: Orange County lawmakers claim corruption with county’s contracts with IT company

Albany Times Union – Lana Bellamy | Published: 10/26/2023

New York Sen. James Skoufis alleges the Orange County government entered into illegal contracts with an information technology company in order to enrich the family of a top-ranking county official, and county administrators have attempted to cover up a larger corruption scheme. Skoufis laid out the case that contracts between the county and StarCIO totaling $823,000 were illegally procured and inflated to enrich Isaac Sacolick, the company’s proprietor and the brother-in-law of county Human Resources Commissioner Langdon Chapman.

New York – Judge Fines Trump $10,000 for Second Violation of New York Gag Order

MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

A New York judge fined Donald Trump $10,000 for violating a gag order in a business-fraud lawsuit and warned the former president the penalties will only get worse if he keeps breaking the rules set for the civil trial, in which he is accused of falsely inflating his property values. The five-figure fine came after New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron unexpectedly called Trump to the witness stand to explain, under oath, a comment he made outside the courtroom earlier in the day.

New York – Adams Campaign Contributors Plead Guilty to Straw Donor Conspiracy Charge

The City – George Joseph | Published: 10/24/2023

Shahid and Yahya Mushtaq, two brothers who run a construction company in Queens, each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge stemming from a straw donor scheme that aimed to generate illicit public matching funds for Eric Adams’ successful 2021 mayoral campaign. The brothers’ plea deals require them both to pay a $500 fine and complete 35 hours of community service.

New York – Who Paid for Gov. Hochul’s Israel Trip? Her Office Won’t Say.

The Gothamist – Jon Campbell | Published: 10/25/2023

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office will not say who pledged to pay for the governor’s recent visit to Israel, an arrangement the state’s ethics board has not yet approved, despite her trip to the Middle East last week. Hochul spent two days in Israel amid its war with Hamas, touring the country and meeting with dignitaries, along with victims and their families. Gubernatorial spokesperson Avi Small said the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government is still “in the final stages of reviewing this arrangement to ensure it fully complies with state ethics law.”

North Carolina – N.C. Republicans Pass Redistricting Map Expected to Flip 3 House Seats

MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 10/25/2023

The North Carolina General Assembly gave final approval to new congressional and state legislative district maps that would empower the state Republican Party for years to come. North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats are now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The new map would probably flip at least three of those seats to the GOP. Proponents say they are allowed to draw maps that favor political parties because of recent court precedent, and Republicans have the power to do so because they won more seats in both chambers of the Legislature.

Ohio – Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Quietly Ordered Purge of Thousands of Inactive Voters Last Month

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 10/24/2023

Thousands of inactive Ohio voters were purged from the state’s voter rolls in September at the direction of Secretary of State Frank LaRose after some voters had already begun casting ballots in the November election. LaRose maintains he issued the directive because he’s required by federal and state election law to set rules and timelines for maintaining accurate voter registration lists. But a state lawmaker asked why he did not delay it until after the general election, as he did earlier ahead of the August special election on a proposed constitutional amendment to make it harder to pass future amendments.

Ohio – Mayor Pureval Removed from Cincinnati Southern Railway Campaign Ads After Conflict of Interest Questions

WCPO – Taylor Weiter and Dan Monk | Published: 10/19/2023

Commercials promoting the sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway no longer feature Mayor Aftab Pureval after a media investigation found connections between campaigns for the sale and Pureval’s re-election. Building Cincinnati’s Future and Friends of Aftab Pureval, the mayor’s re-election campaign, share the same treasurer, Jens Sutmoller.

Oklahoma – Phantom Attack Ads Target Oklahoma Candidate, Connected to Nationwide Dark Money Network

MSN – Clifton Adcock (The Frontier) | Published: 10/24/2023

Common Sense Conservatives spent money on a direct mail advertisement this fall against Baptist minister Dusty Deevers in a Republican primary for a seat in the Oklahoma Senate. Records show Common Sense Conservatives is one small piece of a larger, nationwide “dark money” network that conducts most of its operations out of Ohio, has been involved in numerous federal and state-level campaigns in other states including Oklahoma, and has ties to at least one bogus charity.

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