News You Can Use Digest - October 6, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

October 6, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 6, 2023


Supreme Court to Decide Landmark Texas, Florida Social Media Cases and More

MSN – Ann Marimow and Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 9/29/2023

The Supreme Court said it would wade into the future of free speech online and decide whether laws passed in Texas and Florida can restrict social media companies from removing certain political posts or accounts. The court’s review of those laws will be the highest-profile examination to date of allegations that Silicon Valley companies are illegally censoring conservative viewpoints. Those accusations reached a fever pitch when Facebook, Twitter, and other companies suspended Donald Trump’s accounts in the wake of the attack on the Capitol.

For Supreme Court, Ethics Have Become the Elephant in the Courtroom

MSN – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 10/1/2023

Some of the issues and political stalemates that haunt the Supreme Court are returning for the new term, accompanied by another concern: how to convince the public that the justices take seriously their ethical obligations. Reports about some justices hobnobbing with billionaire friends on lavish trips and maintaining ties to those who have business before the court have become the elephant in the courtroom. Justices across the ideological spectrum have said confidence in their decision-making is key to public acceptance of the court’s role as the final word on the law and Constitution.

Federal Appeals Court Expands Limits on Biden Administration in First Amendment Case

MSN – Jessica Guynn and John Fritze (USA Today) | Published: 10/3/2023

The nation’s top cybersecurity defense agency likely violated the First Amendment when lobbying Silicon Valley companies to remove or suppress the spread of online content about elections, a federal appeals court ruled. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals expanded an injunction to include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, ruling it used frequent interactions with social media platforms “to push them to adopt more restrictive policies on election-related speech.”

Vote to Oust McCarthy Is a Warning Sign for Democracy, Scholars Say

MSN – Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 10/4/2023

Historians and political scientists say the vote to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House is a warning sign for the health of American democracy. The vote reflected the enormous power that a small group of representatives on their party’s ideological fringe can wield over an entire institution, said Daniel Ziblatt, a professor of government at Harvard University. It also showcased how difficult it will be for anyone to corral the House in a way that is functional, with major decisions over the budget and Ukraine funding ahead. “… [This] should set off alarm bells that something is not right,” said Ziblatt.

Gaetz’s Ouster of McCarthy Draws Attention to His Ethics Issues

Seattle Times – Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 10/3/2023

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s successful push to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy has cemented his status as one of the most reviled members of the House of Representatives, including among many of his fellow Republicans, and drawn attention to a long-running investigation by the House Ethics Committee into Gaetz’s conduct. McCarthy has argued that Gaetz’s motion to remove him is little more than personal payback for McCarthy’s failure to interfere with the inquiry, which is looking into allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of funds by Gaetz.

Republican Group Running Anti-Trump Ads Finds Little Is Working

Yahoo News – Jonathan Swain (New York Times) | Published: 9/29/2023

A well-funded group of anti-Trump conservatives has sent its donors a candid memo that reveals how resilient former President Trump has been against millions of dollars of negative ads the group deployed against him in two early voting states. Win It Back has spent more than $4 million trying to lower Trump’s support among Republican voters in Iowa and nearly $2 million more in South Carolina. But in the memo, the head of Win It Back PAC, David McIntosh, acknowledges that after testing more than 40 anti-Trump television ads, “all attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective.”

Giuliani’s Drinking, Long a Fraught Subject, Has Trump Prosecutors’ Attention

Yahoo News – Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 10/4/2023

For more than a decade, friends conceded, Rudolph Giuliani’s drinking has been a problem. As he surged back to prominence during Donald Trump’s presidency, it was getting more difficult to hide it. Now, prosecutors in the federal election case against Trump have shown an interest in Giuliani’s drinking habits and whether the former president ignored what his aides described as the plain inebriation of the former mayor. The answer could complicate any efforts by Trump’s team to lean on a so-called advice-of-counsel defense, a strategy that could portray him as a client merely taking professional cues from his lawyers.

Supreme Court Rejects Eastman’s Bid to Scrap Rulings That Sent His Emails to Jan. 6 Investigators

Yahoo News – Josh Gerstein and Kylie Cheney (Politico) | Published: 10/2/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court, minus a recused Clarence Thomas, turned down a bid by attorney John Eastman to erase court rulings that described him as a linchpin in former President Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election. The decision essentially enshrines rulings by a federal judge in California that found Eastman’s emails contained evidence of a likely crime related to Trump’s efforts.

As Menendez’s Star Rose, Fears of Corruption Cast a Persistent Shadow

Yahoo News – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 9/27/2023

Robert Menendez rose from a New Jersey tenement to the pinnacle of power in Washington as the state’s senior U.S. senator. But those who have closely followed his career say the years he spent enmeshed in former Union City Mayor William Musto’s machine also set the tone for another, more sinister undercurrent that now threatens to swallow it – one in which Menendez became a power broker himself whose own close ties to moneyed interests have repeatedly attracted the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, an Advocate for Liberal Priorities, Dies at Age 90

Yahoo News – Michael Blood and Mary Clare Jalonick (Associated Press) | Published: 9/29/2023

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, broke gender barriers throughout her long career in local and national politics, has died. She was 90. Feinstein, the oldest sitting senator, was a passionate advocate for liberal priorities important to her state, including environmental protection, reproductive rights, and gun control, but was also known as a pragmatic lawmaker who reached out to Republicans and sought middle ground.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona – Her Calendar Was Mostly Open. She Wasn’t in Office. Why Was Attorney General Aide Paid?

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 10/4/2023

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes announced in July that her chief of staff would be leaving the office four weeks later, wishing her “all the best in her future endeavors.” In the month that followed, that top aide, Amy Love, appeared to do little to no work while collecting a paycheck from taxpayers. Love went to the office just once in four weeks. She sent just one email in that time, to another staffer. Many of the meetings on Love’s schedule were canceled, and those that remained largely appear to be routine internal team meetings. It is unclear if Love attended those gatherings.

Arizona – Audit Flags Lavish Spending by Arizona to Woo Business Executives. State Leaders Defend It.

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 10/3/2023

Arizona political and economic development leaders’ use of major events such as the Super Bowl to woo company executives to bring business to the state have cost more than $2.4 million in six years, according to a new audit. Dubbed the CEO Forum, the business recruiting events tied to high-profile sporting events were a favorite way for former Gov. Doug Ducey to tout the perks of the state as part of his effort to be business friendly. The auditor general asked the state attorney general to probe whether the program violated the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution.

Arizona – Arizona Says No Labels Must Accept All Candidates Even If Third Parties Opposes Them

Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 9/29/2023

Arizona’s top elections official says the No Labels party cannot block candidates from using its ballot line to run for office, boosting opponents’ efforts to force the movement for a third-party presidential ticket to release more information about its anonymous donors. A senior official for Secretary of State Adrian Fontes rejected No Labels’ request to exclude two people who have filed paperwork to run for state office without the support of the party’s leadership. One of the two people opposes No Labels and is deliberately trying to force the party to comply with Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

California – Newsom Taps Emily’s List Leader to Fill Feinstein’s Senate Seat

MSN – Maeve Reston and Tyler Pager (Washington Post) | Published: 10/2/2023

California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill the Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein, who died at the age of 90. Feinstein had just over a year left in her term and had said she would not run again. Three of California’s top Democrats – U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff – are in a contentious primary to fill the seat starting in January 2025, in what is likely to be the most expensive congressional race in the nation next year.

California – L.A. Councilmember John Lee Accused of Violating Ethics Laws During 2017 Vegas Trip

MSN – Julia Wick, Dakota Smith, and David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 10/2/2023

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission accused city Councilperson John Lee of violating ethics laws during a trip he took to Las Vegas before he was elected to the council. The accusations stem from Lee’s time working as chief of staff for former Councilperson Mitchell Englander, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to lying to federal investigators and was later sentenced to 14 months in prison. According to commission investigators, Lee accepted “multiple gifts from a businessperson and a developer, most of which exceeded the gift limit,” in 2016 and 2017.

California – L.A. Councilmembers Seek to Create Office for Ethics Compliance

MSN – City News Service | Published: 10/4/2023

In an attempt to increase public trust, two Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion seeking to establish an Office of Compliance, with staff and resources to help identify potential conflicts-of-interest in advance of any votes. The office would review financial disclosure and other forms, as well as council and committee agendas to identify any potential conflicts. The city council has been rocked by a number of ethics scandals and accusations in recent years.

California – Disgraced SF Building Inspector Gets More Prison Time

San Francisco Examiner – Marcus White | Published: 10/2/2023

A San Francisco building inspector caught in a web of corruption at City Hall will serve at least another year in prison when his sentence begins. Bernie Curran, who pleaded guilty to perjury and financial conflict-of-interest, was sentenced to two years in prison. Curran can serve that sentence concurrently with a one-year, one-day federal sentence after he pleaded guilty in July to accepting illegal payments from people whose buildings he inspected.

California – Lawsuit Claims OC Board of Education Member Failed to Disclose $14 Million in Income

Voice of OC – Brandon Pho | Published: 10/4/2023

A retired federal judge brought a civil lawsuit against Orange County Board of Education member Mari Barke for allegedly failing to disclose as much as $14 million in income and business interests since her election. It comes amidst a campaign finance probe by the Fair Political Practices Commission into Barke’s disclosure filings. The lawsuit says that until March of this year, Barke had only reported $99 worth of income, business interests, investments, and gifts since assuming office in 2018.

California – Court Rules for Fresno Councilmembers in Lawsuit with County Over Campaign Money Transfers

Yahoo News – Tim Sheehan (Fresno Bee) | Published: 10/2/2023

Superior Court Judge Jonathan Skiles ruled against Fresno County’s campaign fundraising law limiting the amount a candidate for supervisor can transfer from another fund. The county limited transfers to $30,000, whereas incumbents had no limits on money from previous campaigns. City council members Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez now will have the ability to move their campaign funds to their races for the county board of supervisors.

District of Columbia – Leonard Leo Says He Will Not Cooperate with D.C. Attorney General Tax Probe

Yahoo News – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 10/3/2023

Judicial activist Leonard Leo is not cooperating with an investigation by District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb for potentially misusing nonprofit tax laws for personal enrichment. David Rivkin, Leo’s attorney, said Schwalb has “no legal authority to conduct any investigatory steps or take any enforcement measures” because Leo’s multi-billion-dollar aligned nonprofits, which poured millions of dollars into campaigning for the nominations of conservative Supreme Court justices and advocating before them, were organized outside of the District of Columbia.

Florida – Miami Mayor Suarez Officially Under State Ethics Investigation for World Cup, F1 Tickets

Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey and Tess Riski (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/28/2023

The Florida Commission on Ethics officially opened an investigation into Miami Mayor Francis Suarez following a complaint regarding his acceptance of expensive tickets to sporting events like the Miami Formula One Grand Prix and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The complaint raises questions about who paid for the various tickets worth thousands of dollars and whether Suarez complied with ethics laws requiring the mayor to disclose the source of all gifts, including complimentary access, valued over $100. The laws also prohibit elected officials from accepting such gifts from city vendors, lobbyists, or their employers.

Georgia – Trump Won’t Be on Trial in Georgia Case This Fall, but His Presence Will Be Felt

DNyuz – Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset (New York Times) | Published: 10/4/2023

Within weeks, prosecutors will present their case alleging a sprawling conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. But the star defendant, former President Trump, will not be there. Instead, the defendants in the first trial in the racketeering case against Trump and 18 of his allies will be two of the lawyers who tried to keep him in power after the election: Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, who were the only ones to seek speedy trials. The former president will loom over the courtroom, though. That has much to do with how racketeering cases work.

Georgia – First Trump Co-Defendant Pleads Guilty in the Georgia Election Interference Case

NPR – Associated Press | Published: 9/29/2023

A bail bondsman charged alongside former President Trump and 17 others in the Georgia election interference case pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, becoming the first defendant to accept a plea deal with prosecutors. As part of the deal, Scott Graham Hall will receive five years of probation and will testify in further proceedings. He was also ordered to write a letter of apology to the citizens of Georgia and is forbidden from participating in polling activities. Prosecutors accused him of participating in a breach of election equipment in Coffee County.

Hawaii – Former CoreCivic Lobbyist Is Helping to Plan a New Oahu Jail

Honolulu Civil Beat – Kevin Dayton | Published: 10/2/2023

The state executive now tasked with devising a plan to finance a $900 million jail on Oahu worked for years as a registered lobbyist for CoreCivic, which is a prison developer that lobbied for years to try to get the state to move forward with the project. State Budget Director Luis Salaveria was registered as a lobbyist for CoreCivic until the end of last year but said he did not participate in the company’s push to get the state to issue a request for proposals to build the new jail.

Idaho – Idaho Secretary of State’s Office Releases New Campaign Finance, Lobbying Dashboard

KTVB – Abby Davis | Published: 9/28/2023

The November 7 elections are coming up, and election transparency is top of mind for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. It released a new campaign finance and lobbying dashboard, which lists all the mayoral and city council candidates. The aim of the dashboard is to give voters a better understanding of candidates. On the new dashboard, people can see how much money those candidates have raised and where it comes from. Previously, the data took a lot of time and effort to look through.

Kansas – Police Chief Resigns Weeks After Leading Raid on Kansas Newspaper Office

MSN – Praveena Somasundaram (Washington Post) | Published: 10/2/2023

The police chief who led the controversial raid of a newspaper office and its publisher’s home in a small Kansas town resigned days after he was suspended. During the raid in Marion, Kansas, officials seized a computer that held details about the Marion County Record’s investigation into Police Chief Gideon Cody. The raid Cody conducted set off a storm of questions from news organizations and their advocates, who viewed it as a major threat to press freedom.

Kansas – Kansas Lawmaker Threatens Wildlife Department Over Deer Baiting; Ethics Concerns Raised

Yahoo News – Dylan Lysen and Celia Llopis-Jepson (Wichita Eagle) | Published: 9/28/2023

A lawmaker threatened to strip funding from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks if it bans people from baiting deer with piles of food. State Rep. Lewis Bloom, a farmer from Clay Center, went as far as to claim the chairperson of the committee that oversees the agency’s budget would help him retaliate by defunding the department. Rep. Ken Corbet, chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Committee, owns a lodge that offers deer hunting for thousands of dollars per person, raising concerns of a conflict-of-interest.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts Republican Party Settles Campaign Finance Allegations with State, to Pay $15,000

MSN – Matt Stout (Boston Globe) | Published: 9/29/2023

The Massachusetts Republican Party agreed to settle allegations it took $137,000 in “impermissible” donations from a state senator in 2020 and used the money to help the campaign of his wife, according to an agreement the party’s new leader signed with state prosecutors. The GOP will pay $15,000 in three installments under the deal.

Michigan – Feds Charge Inkster Mayor Patrick Wimberly in Corruption Case

Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 10/3/2023

Inkster Mayor Patrick Wimberly was indicted in federal court, accused of receiving $50,000 in bribes, throwing the November election into disarray as the Wayne County politician becomes the latest public official accused of wrongdoing in a broader assault on corruption in Metro Detroit. Wimberly is accused of demanding cash to facilitate the sale of city-owned property to an unidentified “outside party,” prosecutors said. The person gave Wimberly $5,000 monthly cash bribes until Wimberly demanded more and the person started paying $10,000 each month, according to the indictment.

Michigan – Ex-Michigan House Speaker Sentenced to Prison in Marijuana Bribery Scheme

MLive – Michael Kransz | Published: 9/28/2023

Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison for accepting bribes as head of a marijuana licensing board. He admitted accepting at least $110,000 when he led the now defunct Medical Marijuana Licensing Board from 2017 to 2019. In exchange, federal prosecutors say Johnson gave bribe payers inside information pertaining to the board’s work and other medical marijuana applicants, as well as support through the licensing process and favorable votes on license applications.

Nevada – Lombardo Files Lawsuit Challenging Ethics Commission Fine, Censure Over Use of Badge

Nevada Independent – Tabitha Mueller | Published: 10/2/2023

Attorneys for Gov. Joe Lombardo appealed the Nevada Commission on Ethics decision to censure and fine the governor for using his Clark County sheriff uniform and badge on the 2022 campaign trail. The appeal makes a new legal argument in the case, challenging the constitutional authority of the commission itself.

New Mexico – Ethics Commission Fines State Treasurer for State Campaign Finance Violation

Santa Fe New Mexican – Robert Knott | Published: 10/4/2023

A State Ethics Commission hearing officer found New Mexico Treasurer Laura Montoya violated campaign finance reporting laws by accepting $10,000 in straw donations. Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Torgerson imposed a civil penalty of $1,000 on Montoya, saying she failed to treat two $5,000contributions properly.

New York – Trump’s Trial Starts Monday. It Will Spotlight What He’s Really Worth.

DNyuz – Jonah Bromwich, Ben Protess, and William Rashbaum (New York Times) | Published: 10/2/2023

After decades of exaggerating with impunity, Donald Trump is now on trial, facing a lawsuit that accuses him of inflating his riches by billions of dollars and crossing the line into fraud. It will be the first of several government trials he will face in the coming year, a procession of high-stakes courtroom battles that coincide with his third White House run. It will be an avidly scrutinized spectacle that will lift the curtain on Trump’s reputation as a businessperson, a core piece of his identity.

New York – Over 100 Campaigns Requested Public Funds in NY – but a Change Might Weaken Small Donors’ Power

Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 10/4/2023

More than 100 candidates have registered for a new state public matching funds program that helps boost small campaign donations, marking a major milestone in New York’s inaugural election cycle. But what the campaigns signed up for may not be what they get if Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a bill passed by the Legislature at the end of session. Proponents of the original program are urging Hochul not to sign the bill. They warn the changes will dilute the power of small-dollar donors and undermine the public matching system’s original intent.

New York – Adams Donor Who Twice Denied Making Campaign Donation Changes Story, Says She Gave $2,000 After All

Yahoo News – Michael Gartland (New York Daily News) | Published: 10/2/2023

A woman who twice denied donating $2,000 to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 campaign, in spite of records that state otherwise, changed her story hours after a news story was published. The New York Daily News reported that law enforcement and election watchdogs have taken an interest in the discrepancy between public records and her initial statements, as well as other donations to Adams.

New York – Judge in Fraud Trial Imposes Gag Order After Trump Attacks Judge’s Aide

Yahoo News – Erica Orden, Josh Gerstein, and Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 10/3/2023

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial issued a gag order barring Trump from making comments about court staff after the former president posted a social media attack on the judge’s principal law clerk that included her photo. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron said he had warned Trump “off the record” about making such comments, but Trump had ignored him. “Consider this statement a gag order forbidding all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any of my staff,” Engoron said.

Tennessee – Rep. Justin Jones Sues House Speaker Cameron Sexton Over Expulsion, Vote to Silence Him

MSN – Melissa Brown (Nashville Tennessean) | Published: 10/4/2023

Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones filed a federal lawsuit challenging his expulsion in April and the House rules restricting lawmakers’ floor comments that Republicans applied to silence Jones for part of the special session. Filed against Speaker Cameron Sexton and House administrative officials, the lawsuit argues Republicans have repeatedly blocked Jones from speaking during debate in violation of free speech rights under the state and federal constitutions. He also contends his due process rights were infringed upon by the expulsion proceedings.

Texas – Eric Dick Fined $10K for Campaign Finance Violations During Failed Run for Harris County Treasurer

MSN – Elizabeth Sander (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 10/3/2023

Harris County Department of Education Trustee Eric Dick faces $40,000 in fines for campaign finance violations after the Texas Ethics Commission recently tacked on another $10,000 penalty. The commission ruled Dick will be required to pay the $10,000 for campaign finance violations that occurred during his unsuccessful campaign for Harris County treasurer in March 2022. He was fined $30,000 in February 2022 for violations made during his unsuccessful 2019 run for city council.

Texas – Lawsuit by Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Accusers Can Continue, Texas Supreme Court Rules

Texas Tribune – Patrick Svitek | Published: 9/29/2023

The Texas Supreme Court sided with former top deputies of state Attorney General Ken Paxton and cleared the way for their whistleblower lawsuit to move forward. The lawsuit will return to a Travis County trial court. Four whistleblowers sued the attorney general’s office for wrongful termination and retaliation after they reported Paxton to the FBI, alleging he abused his office to help a friend and donor. They almost settled with the attorney general’s office for $3.3 million earlier this year until Texas House investigators, concerned about using taxpayer dollars for the settlement, started probing the lawsuit’s claims and recommended Paxton’s impeachment.

Virginia – Youngkin Takes $2M from TikTok Investor Despite App Ban, China Warnings

MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 10/5/2023

Gov. Glenn Youngkin accepted a $2 million political contribution from a donor with a multibillion-dollar stake in TikTok, a Chinese-owned app the governor banned from state devices last year amid his broader campaign against Chinese influence in Virginia. With hefty political donations, Yass has been helping TikTok rally conservatives in Washington, D.C. against banning the app in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reported.

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