News You Can Use Digest - September 1, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

September 1, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 1, 2023


A Lawmaker Hid One Key Fact as He Fought Checks on Gun Shops

DNyuz – Glen Thrush (New York Times) | Published: 8/25/2023

Rep. Andrew Clyde has been in Congress only since 2021, but he has quickly emerged as a vocal opponent of gun control, handing out dozens of AR-15 pins to exemplify his wide-ranging push to roll back federal firearms regulation. At a subcommittee hearing, Clyde grilled the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives about a little-known program to monitor gun dealers found selling large numbers of weapons later traced to crimes. Clyde did not disclose one of two gun stores he owns in Georgia was placed in the monitoring program in 2020 and 2021.

Trump Gets March 4 Trial Date in Federal Case Over Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election

MSN – Sarah Wire (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/28/2023

Donald Trump will face trial on March 4, 2024, for four felony charges related to his alleged efforts to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election. U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said her decision could not take into consideration the former president’s other responsibilities. Trump is again seeking the Republican nomination in 2024. The ruling means jury selection would begin a day before Super Tuesday, when California, Texas, and a dozen other states hold their presidential primaries.

Following Elon Musk’s Lead, Big Tech Is Surrendering to Disinformation

MSN – Naomi Nix and Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 8/25/2023

Social media companies are receding from their role as watchdogs against political misinformation, abandoning their most aggressive efforts to police online falsehoods in a trend expected to affect the 2024 presidential election. Mass layoffs at Meta and other major tech companies have gutted teams dedicated to promoting accurate information online. An aggressive legal battle over claims the Biden administration pressured social media platforms to silence certain speech has blocked a key path to detecting election interference. Elon Musk has reset industry standards, rolling back strict rules against misinformation on X.

Trump Is Selling His Mug Shot on Shirts, Koozies and Bumper Stickers

MSN – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 8/25/2023

Not long after Donald Trump was booked on felony charges alleging that he participated in a conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, his 2024 presidential campaign was selling merchandise featuring the first mug shot of a former American president. Other Republicans are also raising money off the mug shot. A committee for Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who is running for reelection in 2024, urged supporters to donate to WinRed, a small-donor fundraising platform for Republicans. “Today, ALL defense pledges will be flagged SPECIFICALLY for President Trump’s campaign,” the ad reads.

ChatGPT Breaks Its Own Rules on Political Messages

MSN – Cat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 8/28/2023

OpenAI initially banned campaigns from using ChatGPT, its artificial intelligence-powered chatbot. But OpenAI then updated its website with a new set of rules limiting only what the company considers the riskiest applications. These rules ban campaigns from using ChatGPT to create materials targeting specific voting demographics, a capability that could be abused and spread disinformation. Yet ChatGPT can still be used to generate tailored political messages, an enforcement gap that comes ahead of the Republican primaries and amid a critical year for global elections.

Mitch McConnell Appears to Freeze Again While Talking with Reporters

MSN – Marisa lati and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2023

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to freeze for more than 20 seconds while taking questions from journalists in an incident that mirrored another occasion when he abruptly stopped speaking in late July. A reporter asked him about running for reelection in 2026. After about seven seconds, an aide approached and asked the senator if he had heard the question. McConnell stared straight ahead, and the aide asked reporters to give them a minute.

Judge Says Peter Navarro Can’t Use Privilege as Defense in Contempt Case

MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2023

A judge ruled Peter Navarro, a Trump White House adviser charged with criminal contempt of Congress, cannot argue to a jury that he was barred by executive privilege from providing testimony and documents to the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Navarro has continually asserted, without proof, that he defied the subpoena because Trump, in conversations with him, invoked executive privilege and instructed Navarro not to reveal any privileged information related to topics the committee was investigating.

Justice Thomas Says He Used Private Jet for Security Reasons after Dobbs Leak

MSN – Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2023

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reported three 2022 trips on the private jet of a Texas billionaire in a newly released financial disclosure form, and for the first-time detailed Harlan Crow’s purchase of three properties from the justice’s family years. Thomas said he opted to fly on Crow’s private plane for one of the trips on the advice of his security detail. The justices faced heightened security risks, Thomas noted, after the leak of the court’s majority opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Republican Women, Fearing Backlash on Abortion, Pivot to Birth Control

Yahoo News – Annie Karni (New York Times) | Published: 8/30/2023

Vulnerable U.S. House Republicans, especially those in politically competitive districts, are trying to reconcile their party’s hardline anti-abortion policies with the views of voters in their districts, particularly independents and women. While many of these GOP lawmakers have cast votes this year to limit abortion access – maintaining a stance that some Republicans concede hurt their party in last year’s midterm elections – others spent part of the congressional recess talking up their support for birth control access, which is broadly popular across the country and across party lines.

X to Allow Political Ads for the First Time Since 2019

Yahoo News – Rebecca Klar (The Hill) | Published: 8/29/2023

X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, will allow political ads heading into the 2024 election cycle for the first time since 2019. The update is the latest change since Elon Musk bought the platform in October. While allowing paid political ads back, the platform will enforce policies that aim to combat the spread of false information.

GOP Salivates at the Biggest Campaign Finance Win Since Citizens United

Yahoo News – Ally Mutnick and Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 8/29/2023

Republicans are growing increasingly optimistic about their prospects in a little-noticed lawsuit that would allow official party committees and candidates to coordinate freely by removing current spending restrictions. If successful, it would represent a seismic shift in how tens of millions of campaign dollars are spent and upend a well-established political ecosystem for television advertising.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska – Report from Alaska Campaign Regulator Says Tshibaka-Linked Group Violated State Law

Yahoo News – James Brooks (Alaska Beacon) | Published: 8/26/2023

Staff for the Alaska Public Offices Commission recommended a $16,450 fine against Preserve Democracy, a group led by former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka. Staffers concluded Preserve Democracy failed to register with the commission before campaigning in favor of a proposed ballot measure that would repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system.

Arkansas – Arkansas Lawmakers Question Whether Water Company Employees Acted as Lobbyists

Center Square – Kim Jarrett | Published: 8/30/2023

The Arkansas Ethics Commission will look at an email from some Central Arkansas Water Company employees and donations made by the company’s chief executive officer regarding whether they were lobbying. The Joint Performance Review Committee agreed to turn the matters over to the ethics panel after Sen. Dan Sullivan brought the committee an email from employees of the water company known as the Justice, Equity or Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

California – Longtime LA Politician Mark Ridley-Thomas Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years for Bribery

Courthouse News Service – Hillel Aron | Published: 8/28/2023

A federal judge sentenced longtime Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas to three-and one-half years in prison. A jury found Ridley-Thomas guilty of bribery for soliciting favors for his son from the dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, in exchange for helping secure county contracts for the school. The dean, Marilyn Flynn, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and was sentenced to three years of probation. But Ridley-Thomas maintained his innocence and the case proceeded to trial.

California – San Francisco DA Files New Corruption Charges in Probe with FBI

San Francisco Standard – Josh Koehn | Published: 8/29/2023

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins filed multiple felony charges against a former City Hall staffer, Lanita Henriquez, and Rudolph Dwayne Jones, the director of a community grant program for the city, alleging the two conspired to funnel public money into private contracts to enrich themselves. Henriquez allegedly approved 23 contracts in her official capacity with entities controlled by Jones in which she had financial interests.

California – San Francisco Corruption Scandal Forces New Ballot Measure for Voters

San Francisco Standard – Liz Lindqwister | Published: 8/25/2023

San Francisco ethics watchdogs have long urged the city to adopt tighter restrictions on gift-giving practices that have in the past opened the door for corruption. Now, the city will take the issue to voters. The Ethics Commission voted to place a package of anti-corruption measures on the March 5, 2024, ballot.  The measures introduce more explicit prohibitions on gift-giving and bribery and add more required ethics training for city officials.

California – Winds of Reform Spark in Anaheim Along with Council Tension During Corruption Probe Fallout

Voice of OC – Brandon Pho and Hosam Elattar | Published: 8/30/2023

After promising to reform a Disneyland resort-friendly City Hall, Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken sent her resort-backed colleagues the warning shot that some frustrated residents have waited nine months to hear. “My biggest fear is that we were going to hear from … people in the community that we should just … forget about … the problems that were outlined in (a city-commissioned corruption) report,” said Aiken. “I want you to know that I am absolutely not willing to do that.”

California – Is Anaheim a Cue for More Cities to Start Registering Lobbyists?

Voice of OC – Brandon Pho | Published: 8/29/2023

Anaheim has one of Orange County’s most robust online disclosures of registered lobbyists who are paid to sway elected officials on policy making. Yet even with those rules, an FBI corruption probe – and an independent investigation the city commissioned in response – found outsized influence by lobbyists who failed to properly register. Now, some are questioning what that means for other Orange County cities without such policies in place to help members of the public discover the activities of their community’s most influential interest groups.

Florida – Florida’s Affordable Housing Board Suspended Its Director. DeSantis Reinstated Him

MSN – Lawrence Mower (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/28/2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis reinstated Florida’s affordable housing director a month after he was suspended pending the outcome of an inspector general investigation. Mike DiNapoli was DeSantis’s pick to lead the corporation after its previous leader abruptly resigned in January, following the governor’s re-election. DiNapoli was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations he created a hostile work environment.

Georgia – Mark Meadows, Former Trump Chief of Staff, Testifies in Georgia

MSN – Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/28/2023

Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s final White House chief of staff, testified he helped question the 2020 presidential election results out of a federal interest in “free and fair elections” intended to build national trust in the outcome and bring on a peaceful transfer of power. Meadows, who along with Trump and 17 others was indicted in Atlanta, is seeking to move his case from state to federal court, claiming he was acting as a federal officer.

Georgia – Judge Rules Giuliani Defamed Georgia Election Workers, Orders Sanctions

MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2023

A federal judge ruled Rudy Giuliani is legally liable for defaming two Georgia election workers who became the subject of conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election that were amplified by Donald Trump in the final weeks of his presidency. Giuliani will still go to trial on the monetary damages he owes to Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea ArShaye Moss. But U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell has already ordered Giuliani to pay roughly $132,000 in sanctions between his personal and business assets for his failures to hand over relevant information in the case.

Hawaii – Ex-Maui Rep Pleads No Contest to Campaign Spending Violation

Honolulu Civil Beat – Kim Gamel | Published: 8/28/2023

Former Hawaii Rep. Kaniela Ing pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of missing a deadline for filing a campaign spending report. Ing was charged in February after the Campaign Spending Commission took the rare step of referring the case to prosecutors.

Illinois – Tim Mapes, Longtime Gatekeeper to House Speaker Michael Madigan, Found Guilty of Lying to Federal Grand Jury to ‘Protect the Boss’

Yahoo News – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 8/24/2023

A jury convicted a former chief of staff to longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan of lying under oath to a grand jury to protect his once-powerful boss who is scheduled to go on trial on multiple corruption charges next year. Tim Mapes, who served as Madigan’s chief of staff, was convicted of one count of perjury and one of attempted obstruction of justice. The verdict marked the conclusion of a criminal case that centered on relatively straightforward charges yet delved deeply into the behind-the-scenes political intrigue of the scandals that rocked Madigan’s office and ended his decades-long grip on power.

Kansas – How a Small-Town Feud in Kansas Sent a Shock Through American Journalism

MSN – Jonathan O’Connell. Paul Farhi, and Sofia Andrade (Washington Post) | Published: 8/26/2023

Marion County Police Chief Gideon Cody led officers on a raid of the Marion County Record’s offices and the home of its editor and publisher, seizing computers, servers, cellphones, and other files. The raid was so unusual, and so alarming in its implications for the news media, that it became an international story. Press-advocacy organizations condemned the raid as a breach of state and federal laws that protect the media from government intrusion. The response to the raid was heightened by the sudden death of the editor’s 98-year-old mother, who had railed at the officers sorting through her belongings at their home and collapsed a day later.

Louisiana – Louisiana First in the Nation to Vote on Banning Private Elections Funding

Bolts – Alex Burness | Published: 8/24/2023

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 donated some $350 million to a previously obscure nonprofit organization called the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which helps maintain and improve local election procedures and ballot access around the country. The money was used for a variety of purposes, including ballot processing equipment and improved pay for election workers. In the October 14 election, Louisianans will see a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban private or foreign money from being used for the purpose of conducting elections.

Michigan – How Trump’s Election Lies Left the Michigan G.O.P. Broken and Battered

Yahoo News – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 8/29/2023

The Michigan Republican Party is starving for cash. A group of prominent activists was hit with felony charges connected to a bizarre plot to hijack election machines. In the face of these troubles, suspicion and infighting have been running high. A recent state committee meeting led to a fistfight. The turmoil is one measure of the way Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have rippled through his party.

New Jersey – ELEC Says Goodbye to Brindle, Begins Search for Replacement

New Jersey Globe – David Wildstein | Published: 8/29/2023

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission formally accepted Jeff Brindle’s retirement as executive director and will meet to discuss their search for his replacement. Brindle notified commissioners of his plans four weeks ago after heading the campaign finance agency since 2009. His decision came more than five months after Gov. Phil Murphy had sought to oust Brindle from his post over an email sent to a staffer last fall that mocked National Coming Out Day.

New York – Lobbying Topped $300 Million in N.Y. for First Time in 2022

Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 8/28/2023

Spending on lobbying in New York surged last year as the coronavirus pandemic subsided with a record $332 million spent to influence elected officials. The overwhelming majority of the money was spread across 60-plus firms and organizations that were paid at least $1 million in 2022 to lobby on state government matters.

New York – 3 Hosts of an Eric Adams Fund-Raiser Are Said to Face Indictment

DNyuz – William Rashbaum and Jonah Bromwich (New York Times) | Published: 8/28/2023

A few months before he was elected mayor of New York City, Eric Adams was feted at a $1,000-a-head fundraiser. Among the hosts was city Councilperson Eric Ulrich, whom Adams would eventually appoint as buildings commissioner. Now, at least four hosts of the event, including Ulrich, are under scrutiny, with several expected to face charges stemming from a bribery and organized crime investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, according to several people familiar with elements of the inquiry. It is unclear whether the fundraiser is connected to the pending charges.

New York – Trump Asks to Dismiss Suit as A.G. Says He Inflated Worth by $2.2 Billion

DNyuz – Jonah Bromwich, Ben Protess, and William Rashbaum (New York Times) | Published: 8/30/2023

Before Donald Trump was indicted four times over, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued him, alleging his business and members of his family had fraudulently overvalued their assets. James will seek to bar him and three of his children from leading their family business to require him to pay a fine of around $250 million. James is arguing a trial is not necessary to find Trump inflated the value of his assets, fraudulently obtaining favorable loans and insurance arrangements. She said the fraud was so pervasive that Trump falsely boosted his net worth by between $812 million and $2.2 billion each year over the course of a decade.

New York – Top Execs at Group That Paid for Mayor Adams’ $34K Israel Trip Have Business Interests Before His Admin

MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 8/25/2023

Two top executives at a philanthropic organization that bankrolled New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ recent trip to Israel have significant business and lobbying interests before his administration. The matter involves Marc Rowan and Eric Goldstein of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York. A spokesperson for the group said it spent $4,857 on Adams’ airfare, lodging, food, and other expenses related to his Israel visit.

North Carolina – A North Carolina Court Justice Wants to Block an Ethics Panel Probe, Citing Her Free Speech

MSN – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 8/29/2023

A Democratic justice on North Carolina’s Republican-majority Supreme Court sued an ethics panel to block it from investigating her public comments about state courts and colleagues, saying the probe and other recent scrutiny violate her free speech rights. Associate Justice Anita Earls filed the federal lawsuit against the state Judicial Standards Commission. She wants a judge to declare the panel can no longer investigate her speech “on matters of public concern.”

North Carolina – How US Allowed Pandemic Relief to Go to NC Companies Involved in Politics and Lobbying

Yahoo News – Danielle Battaglia (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 8/31/2023

Many North Carolina firms involved in lobbying and politics landed Paycheck Protection (PPP) loans, then had them forgiven, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Small Business Administration has excluded those primarily engaged in lobbying or political activities from applying for agency loans. It was believed federal tax money should not be invested into those activities. When Congress authorized the PPP loans to help companies harmed by shutdowns as COVID-19 spread, those rules still applied. The rules allowed some firms in those industries to apply, but only if lobbying or political activity were not their “primary” lines of work.

Ohio – Ohio Abortion Rights Advocates Sue Over Ballot Language

Yahoo News – Jessie Balmert (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 8/28/2023

The group pushing to enshrine abortion access in the Ohio Constitution filed a lawsuit challenging ballot language written by Republicans that reproductive rights advocates say is inaccurate and will confuse voters this fall. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights asked the state Supreme Court to use the same ballot language they used to circulate petitions and collect signatures. If the court disagrees with that approach, advocates want “blatant inaccuracies” in the language fixed.

Oklahoma – Ryan Walters Ordered to Pay Oklahoma Ethics Commission Over Campaign Report Violations

MSN – Nolan Clay (Oklahoman) | Published: 8/28/2023

State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters was ordered to pay $7,800 to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for filing campaign reports late 14 times during his run for office last year. Only one of the orders has become final, though it has not been paid. Walters is contesting the others. Dozens of other candidates have had trouble meeting filing deadlines but few to the same extent, records show. Most are fined less than $1,000.

Oregon – Oregon Ethics Watchdogs Launch New Probe into Former Secretary of State Fagan’s Travel

Oregon Capital Chronicle – Julia Shumway | Published: 8/25/2023

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted unanimously to investigate former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s travel while in office and whether she bilked the state out of thousands of dollars by bringing her family with her on state-funded trips and double-dipping with campaign funds. She is also facing scrutiny from state and federal prosecutors and the state ethics commission, which began a separate probe into her conduct in office, including her $10,000-per-month consulting job with cannabis entrepreneurs involved in an audit conducted by her office.

Oregon – Republican Senators, State Attorneys Seek Oregon Supreme Court Review of Anti-Walkout Law

Oregon Capital Chronicle – Julia Shumway | Published: 8/29/2023

Five Republican senators and attorneys representing the state are seeking a quick resolution from the Oregon Supreme Court on the senators’ challenge to a voter-approved law intended to block them from running for reelection after they ground the legislative session to a halt for six weeks. Voters frustrated with GOP lawmakers’ increasing reliance on quorum-blocking walkouts passed a constitutional amendment to bar any senator with more than 10 unexcused absences from serving another term. Ten conservative senators passed that point in May, and they stayed away for another month as they protested bills on abortion, transgender health care, and guns.

Texas – Judge Declares New Texas Law That Would Erode Cities’ Power to Enact Local Rules Unconstitutional

Texas Tribune – Joshua Fechter | Published: 8/30/2023

A new Texas law aimed at undermining the ability of the state’s bluer urban areas to enact progressive policies is unconstitutional, a Travis County judge. State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble made the ruling just days before the law, which opponents nicknamed the “Death Star” bill, is slated to take effect. The Republican-backed law aims to stop local governments from enacting a wide range of policies by barring cities and counties from passing local ordinances that go further than what is allowed under broad areas of state law.

Texas – ‘This is Approved’: Top AG lawyers now represent their embattled suspended boss, and got taxpayer money while doing it

WFAA – Tanya Eiserer | Published: 8/29/2023

At the Texas Attorney General’s Office, they are some of Ken Paxton’s staunchest defenders: Solicitor General Judd Stone and general litigation chief Chris Hilton. Both played roles in fighting a lawsuit that alleged Paxton used his office to systemically benefit a friend and campaign donor. Once the House impeached Paxton, Hilton and Stone left the office to join the defense team for their former boss. Normally, it would be against internal ethics rules for a lawyer employed by the attorney general’s office to represent someone other than the state. But Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster waived those rules.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Supreme Court Flips Liberal, Creating a ‘Seismic Shift’

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 8/27/2023

Liberal groups, long accustomed to seeing the Wisconsin Supreme Court as hostile terrain, quickly maneuvered for potential victories on a string of major issues after voters elected a liberal majority to the court. They filed lawsuits to try to redraw the state’s legislative districts, which heavily favor Republicans. The Democratic attorney general sought to speed up a case challenging a 19th-century law that has kept doctors from providing abortions in Wisconsin. The turnaround is the result of an April election  that became the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history, with campaigns and interest groups spending more than $50 million.

Wyoming – Lawmakers Aim to Address Campaign Spending, Residency Requirements with New Bills

Casper Star Tribune – Maya Shimizu Harris | Published: 8/29/2023

Wyoming’s next legislative session will likely see a slate of bills that aim to improve transparency around campaign spending and tighten voter residency requirements. The proposed legislation attempts to address concerns ranging from the influence of private money in campaigns and elections to the question of how long someone should be required to live in Wyoming before they can vote in the state’s elections.

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