News You Can Use Digest - September 10, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

September 10, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 10, 2021


A Pro-Trump Group Organizing a DC Rally for Jan. 6 Defendants Lost Its Tax-Exempt Status – but Is Still Claiming Donations Are Tax-Deductible
Yahoo News – Charles Davis (Business Insider) | Published: 9/8/2021

A group founded by a former Trump campaign staffer that is organizing a rally on behalf of January 6 defendants is soliciting “tax-deductible” contributions despite losing its tax-exempt status last year. According to its website, Look Ahead America is a “non-profit organization” founded by Matt Braynard, a former data analyst on the 2016 Trump campaign. Although ostensibly non-partisan, it has clear and avowed sympathies, On September 18, it is organizing what it calls a “#JusticeForJ6” rally at the U.S. Capitol, conflating those arrested for taking part in the pro-Trump January 6 riot with “political prisoners.”

Corporate Boards, Consulting, Speaking Fees: How U.S. generals thrived after Afghanistan
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 9/4/2021

The failure of the American mission in Afghanistan became deadly apparent when the Afghan army collapsed as the Taliban took control. But the generals who led the mission – including McChrystal, who sought and supervised the 2009 American troop surge – have thrived in the private sector since leaving the war. They have amassed influence within businesses, at universities, and in think tanks, in some cases selling their experience in a conflict that killed an estimated 176,000 people, cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, and concluded with the restoration of Taliban rule.

Encryption Poised to Hamper Jan. 6 Investigators’ Phone Records Push
Yahoo News – Nicholas Wu (Politico) | Published: 9/8/2021

The congressional panel investigating the January 6 insurrection escalated its inquiry, sending dozens of requests to social media and telecommunications companies asking them to hold onto individuals’ communications data related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the Capitol siege. Several of the companies that received preservation requests said they would comply to the best of their ability. But the encryption used on many of those services will limit the amount of data the select committee is able to gather if it does make a formal request or issue a subpoena for the actual messages, experts say.

Ethics Panel Announces Four Investigations
MSN – Chris Marquette (Roll Call) | Published: 9/7/2021

The U.S. House ethics committee announced it is investigating four members: Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.), and Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.). The cases were investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which concluded that in each case there was a substantial reason to believe a violation occurred. The OCE is a fact-finding office and, unlike the ethics committee, cannot discipline members or issue subpoenas.

Fears of Critical Race Theory Unleash Army of School Board Candidates
Yahoo News – Daniel Payne (Politico) | Published: 9/8/2021

Tapping into the trickle-up anger over teaching about systemic racism is now a unifying force in campaigns for Congress, governor, and among Republicans with presidential ambitions. But it is the local school board races – outside the spotlight, in elections that attract just a few hundred voters – that may define what students learn for years to come. The movement has the potential to build a stronger GOP as once-uninvolved conservative candidates flood local government and party races, seeking a platform to fight critical race theory and other culture war issues. While such elections are often nonpartisan, the Republican Party sees an opportunity to build a pipeline of new candidates.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Fined $2,500 for Failing to Wear Mask on House Floor
MSN – Chelsey Cox (USA Today) | Published: 9/9/2021

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was fined for flouting a mask mandate on the floor of the House. The fine is part of an ongoing battle over COVID-19 restrictions as the delta variant surges, with many conservatives, including members of Congress, stridently resisting masks and other measures. Notice of the fine was posted by the House ethics committee when Greene did not submit an appeal within an approved time frame. Greene was fined for the same offense on May 20 and her initial appeal was not approved by the committee.

Human Rights Campaign President Fired After Helping to Advise Cuomo
MSN – Brian Pietsch and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 9/7/2021

The president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, was fired over his involvement advising former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to sexual assault allegations. State Attorney General Letitia James found David, a onetime lawyer in the governor’s office, had been consulted by Cuomo’s staff on a letter the governor helped draft to undermine the harassment allegations of Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo’s first accuser. While leading the HRC, David suggested changes to the never-released Boylan letter, which was later leaked to reporters.

New Texas Voting Bill Deepens Growing Disparities in How Americans Can Cast Their Ballots
MSN – Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 9/6/2021

Red and blue states are increasingly moving in opposite directions on how millions of Americans can cast their ballots, exacerbating a growing divide as Republicans in states across the country, most recently Texas, impose new voting restrictions, while Democrats in others expand access. The conflicting trends are widening the disparities in election policy in the wake of the 2020 election, with Republicans heeding former President Trump’s calls to tighten rules and Democrats moving to make permanent many voting policies that helped turnout soar during the pandemic.

Proponents of Post-Trump Curbs on Executive Power Prepare New Push
Yahoo News – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 9/9/2021

As Donald Trump’s norm-busting presidency careened through two impeachments, his departure set the stage for lawmakers to impose new limits on executive power like the period after Watergate and the Vietnam War. But nearly nine months after Trump left the White House, the legal rules that govern the presidency have yet to be tightened. Would-be reformers, sensing the window for change might close soon, are preparing a major push, one the Biden White House is eyeing warily.

Trump-Appointed Ambassador Directed Government Business to His Hotel, Emails Show
MSN – Amy Wang and David Fahrenthold (Washington Post) | Published: 9/3/2021

Kelly Craft, who was appointed to two ambassadorships under former President Trump, directed government business to Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C. while in office, emails show. It was not the first time Craft showed an affinity for the hotel owned by Trump’s company. According to the emails, Craft stayed at the Trump International Hotel multiple times while in Washington.

White House Asks Several Trump Appointees to Resign from Military Service Academy Boards
MSN – Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2021

The White House said it asked a number of Trump administration appointees to resign their positions on the advisory boards at military service academies, arguing the move was about qualifications, not politics. Among the 11 officials are former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spice. Asked whether the White House was concerned the move might risk politicizing positions that have traditionally been nonpartisan roles spanning administrations, Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the president’s primary concern was an appointee’s qualifications and values.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Alaska Supreme Court Confirms an End to 2 Limits on Cash in Political Campaigns
Yahoo News – James Brooks (Anchorage Daily News) | Published: 9/3/2021

In a pair of rulings, the Alaska Supreme Court confirmed that two state limits on spending during political campaigns are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. The justices said the state cannot limit political contributions to third-party groups because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. The other ruling confirms a summary order issued that overturned a one dollar-per-signature limit on payments to those who gather signatures for ballot measures.

Arizona Trump Helped Bankroll Senate Audit, Texts Suggest
Arizona Capitol Times – Dillon Rosenblatt and Kyra Haas | Published: 8/31/2021

Former President Trump may have offered to help pay for Arizona election audit that supporters hope will reverse his election loss, according to records. In an April text exchange with audit spokesperson Randy Pullen, Trump campaign official and former Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit offered to send $175,000 to the Guardian Defense Fund, a “dark-money” group run by Rep. Mark Finchem, where Pullen serves as treasurer. It is unclear if Trump’s money eventually made it to the audit. The Senate’s contractor, Cyber Ninjas, announced it raised more than $5.6 million from five different nonprofit organizations, but did not share the original donors.

California Bell City Manager, Ex-State Senator, Developer Charged in Corruption Case
Yahoo News – Richard Winston (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/3/2021

Prosecutors said four men have been charged in connection with the embezzlement and misappropriation of millions of dollars in public funds that were supposed to be used to study whether a solar farm was suitable on land to be purchased by the City of Industry. Paul Philips, the former manager of the City of Industry, former state Sen. Frank Hill, attorney Anthony Bouza, and William Barkett, the developer of the solar project, were charged. The City of Industry advanced $20 million to Barkett’s company to build a 450-megawatt solar project. But it never broke ground, and the money was never paid back. Though some of the allocated money was paid to other vendors, Barkett is accused of spending about $8.3 million on personal items.

California Favors Aren’t Bribes, Say Ex-LA Councilman’s Attorneys
Los Angeles Daily Breeze – Fred Shuster (City News Service) | Published: 9/8/2021

Attorneys for Jose Huizar filed papers arguing the bribery case against the ex-Los Angeles City Councill member should be tossed because the alleged conduct does not violate laws cited in the 41-count federal racketeering indictment. Huizar, the central figure in a six-year probe of suspected corruption at City Hall, and his associates were allegedly involved in a $1.5 million “pay-to-play” scheme in which real estate developers were shaken down for cash and campaign donations in exchange for help getting building projects through the city’s approval process.

California Fears Rise Over Disinformation in California’s Recall Election
MSN – Reid Wilson (The Hill) | Published: 9/8/2021

Conspiracy theorists who once spread baseless allegations and disinformation about the results of the 2020 elections have turned their attention to the recall election targeting California Gov. Gavin Newsome in an effort that watchdogs say is meant to further undermine faith in the nation’s electoral system. But less than a year after technology giants came under pressure to monitor and squelch disinformation related to last year’s elections, groups dedicated to fighting conspiracy theories say the companies are letting bad actors run free.

Illinois Republicans Upend Democratic Efforts to Show They’re Serious About Ethics Reform in Springfield
MSN – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/3/2021

In a move that appeared to catch majority Democrats by surprise, Illinois House Republicans rejected an ethics proposal tweaked by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and are using the resignation of the General Assembly’s top watchdog to push for what they argue are more meaningful anti-corruption measures. The ethics package, crafted in response to an ongoing federal corruption probe that has swept from Chicago City Hall to Springfield, now faces long odds of becoming law and Democrats who control state government risk losing a chance to show they are taking steps to root out corruption.

Maine Portland Councilor, a Plaintiff in Lawsuit Against the City, Won’t Recuse Herself from Dispute
Portland Press Herald – Randy Billings | Published: 9/3/2021

Portland City Councilor April Fournier said she will not recuse herself from discussions about a lawsuit that clean-elections advocates filed against the city, even though she is named as a plaintiff in the case. The issue emerged as the council considered how to respond to a court’s request for formal “findings of fact” to explain why it rejected a petition to place a public campaign financing proposal on the ballot in 2019. The council decided such a change to the city’s charter would require a lengthy review process before it could go to voters. Fournier, who was not a councilor at the time, was one of 13 residents to sign on with Fair Elections Portland as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging that decision.

Massachusetts Former Mayor Jasiel Correia Could Owe Over $566,000 in His Fraud and Extortion Case
Herald News – Dan Medeiros | Published: 9/8/2021

The federal government has finished totaling up his tab, and they want former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia to repay $566,740 he illegally obtained from investors in his smartphone app and extorted from people looking to open marijuana businesses in Fall River. In May, Correia was found guilty of 21 counts of wire fraud, tax fraud, extortion, and conspiracy conducted both before and during his tenure as mayor.

Michigan FBI Contacted Wayne County Campaign Finance Office Amid Raids on Detroit City Hall
MSN – Joe Guillen (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 9/8/2021

The FBI contacted the Wayne County clerk’s campaign finance office around the time federal agents searched Detroit City Hall in August as part of an ongoing public corruption investigation. While the exact timing and nature of the FBI’s contact is unclear, investigators’ interest in the county clerk’s office could be a new wrinkle in the corruption investigation of several sitting city council members.

Michigan Pro-Trump Lawyers Face $200,000 Legal Bill for ‘Frivolous’ Election Case
Yahoo News – Jan Wolfe (Reuters) | Published: 9/8/2021

Michigan officials demanded that lawyers who unsuccessfully sued to overturn former President Trump’s election defeat in the state pay about $200,000 to reimburse for legal fees and related costs. U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker has ruled state and local election officials in Michigan were entitled to reimbursement of their legal fees but has not yet determined the exact amount. The judge will now review the request to determine if it is reasonable.

Michigan Time’s Up in Ex-Romulus Mayor Probe Despite New Evidence – George Hunter (Detroit News) | Published: 9/4/2021

Michigan State Police recently received new evidence in connection with an 11-year-old corruption investigation that, according to public records, focused on former Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert, but the probe was not reopened because the statute of limitations on possible criminal charges expired. Lambert, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2013 and is seeking to regain the position in November, has never been charged with a crime. The probe focused on allegations Lambert forced business owners to pay for political favors and purchase tickets to fundraisers, as well as questions about a money trail involving a Florida real estate transaction.

Montana How a Small Town Silenced a Neo-Nazi Hate Campaign
Yahoo News – Elizabeth Williamson (New York Times) | Published: 9/5/2021

Richard Spencer once boasted he stood at the vanguard of a white nationalist movement emboldened by Donald Trump. But leaders in Whitefish, Montana, say Spencer, who once ran his National Policy Institute from his mother’s summer house in the town, is now an outcast. His organization has dissolved, and he is facing trial in over his role in the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. Residents of Whitefish, who joined with state officials, human rights groups, and synagogues, say their bipartisan counteroffensive could hold lessons for others in an era of disinformation and intimidation, and in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot.

Montana Native Transgender Lobbyist Sues Conservative News Website for Libel
Missoula Current – Darrell Ehrlick (Montana Standard) | Published: 9/7/2021

Adrian Jawort, a transgender lobbyist for Montana Native Voice, is suing the Montana Daily Gazette for claiming she cornered a state senator and Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy, who escorted the senator to the sergeant-at-arms for his protection. Jawort denied the allegations and asked the newspaper to remove the written account of the alleged incident and correct the reporting. The Daily Gazette refused to do so. Jawort filed a lawsuit, claiming the publication damaged her ability to do her job and asked for $250,000 in damages.

New Mexico Gonzales Denied Public Campaign Funding for the Second Time
Albuquerque Journal – Jessica Dyer | Published: 9/2/2021

For the second time in about two months, the Albuquerque city clerk rejected Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ application for about $600,000 in public money to run his mayoral campaign. Ethan Watson – whose initial denial on July 9 sparked a series of appeals, hearings, and court filings, wrote he would not certify Gonzales for the money because Gonzales violated city code and related regulations while trying to qualify for the funds. The sheriff’s campaign manager said Watson is biased.

New York A Deputy Mayor in New York Had a Stash of Weapons and Fake FBI Badges with His Name and Photo on Them, Feds Say
MSN – Andrea Salcedo (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2021

When authorities executing a search warrant descended into the basement of Brian Downey’s home, they discovered more than a dozen firearms displayed on a black wall, federal agents said. As officers continued searching the home of the deputy mayor of Airmont, New York, they found a sawed-off shotgun in a closet and an illegally modified short-barrel rifle. They also discovered fake badges that bore Downey’s name from various agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, and the FBI.

New York After Cuomo Scandals, NY Lawmakers Tout Need for Recall Option
Press-Republican – Joe Mahoney (CNHI News Service) | Published: 9/8/2021

Up until a month ago, New York and California were both states with governors in deep political hot water. But with Andrew Cuomo having resigned on his own as New York’s chief executive, a major difference in how the two states can deal with issues relating to competency in public office is now in focus: Californians have the power to recall leaders at the ballot box, while New Yorkers do not. Some New York lawmakers are desirous of changing the status quo, proposing what could be a heavy lift at the statehouse.

New York Ethics Agency Subpoenaed in Investigation of Cuomo’s Book
Alton Telegraph – Chris Bragg (Albany Times Union) | Published: 9/8/2021

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office issued a subpoena to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics for its records on former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book chronicling his administration’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic. The subpoena was issued in connection with a criminal investigation that the attorney general is conducting into whether Cuomo’s use of government workers to assist him in writing the book violated any laws. It signals the investigation into Cuomo’s and his staff’s potential misuse of government resources for private gain is entering a phase beyond interviews and gathering publicly available records.

New York Ex-Cuomo Aide, Founding SUNY Poly President See Convictions Upheld in Appeals Court
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Larry Neumeister (Associated Press) | Published: 9/8/2021

The conviction of one of ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides, Joseph Percoco, for fraud and accepting bribes was affirmed by a federal appeals court, as was the separate conviction of founding SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros. The appeals court also upheld the conviction of Steven Aiello, a real estate executive who was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in funneling bribes to Percoco to gain his influence in an ambitious Buffalo Billion development project aimed at encouraging economic development upstate.

New York Facebook Mum on Staffer Who May Have Broken Law Advising Cuomo on Sex Harass Claims
New York Post – Theo Wayt | Published: 9/8/2021

Facebook communications manager Dani Lever was part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “inner circle” of confidantes who helped plan the then-governor’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct. She joined Facebook in August 2020 after having worked in the governor’s press office since 2014. Legal experts say Lever’s role advising Cuomo likely put Facebook in violation of New York state’s lobbying law. The law bans registered lobbyists from giving gifts worth more than $15 to public officials and Facebook has been a registered lobbyist in New York state since at least 2019.

New York Trump Tower’s Key Tenants Have Fallen Behind on Rent and Moved out. But Trump Has One Reliable Customer: His own PAC.
MSN – Shayna Jacobs, David Fahrenthold, Jonathan O’Connell, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 9/3/2021

As Trump Tower dealt with imploding tenants, political backlash, and a broader, pandemic-related slump in Manhattan office leasing since last year, it has been able to count on one reliable, high-paying tenant: former President Trump’s own political operation. Starting in March, one of his committees, Make America Great Again PSC, paid $37,541.67 per month to rent office space on the 15th floor of Trump Tower, a space previously rented by his campaign. A person familiar with Trump’s PAC said its staffers do not regularly use the office space. Also, for several months, Trump’s PAC paid the Trump Organization $3,000 per month to rent a retail kiosk in the tower’s lobby, even though the lobby was closed.

North Carolina Cooper Vetoes Restrictions on NC Nonprofit Donor Disclosure
MSN – Associated Press | Published: 9/4/2021

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation that would prohibit the public disclosure of donors to North Carolina-based nonprofits, calling the measure unneeded. Republicans who sent the bill to his desk said the restrictions would protect the free-speech and free-association rights of donors. Other bill supporters say the identifying information could be used by those who wish to harass donors for their viewpoints on social issues.

North Carolina NC Elections Board Fines Political Campaigns Combined $330K for Late or Missing Finance Reports
WCNC – Nate Morabido | Published: 9/7/2021

Some of the most recognizable campaigns in North Carolina failed to meet deadlines to disclose who donated to their cause and how they spent that money. Hundreds of those campaigns now owe hefty fines as a result. Records show the State Board of Elections already assessed a combined $330,000 in penalties to campaigns this year alone for filing their 2020 routine campaign finance paperwork late or failing to file those reports altogether.

Ohio FBI Suspected Dayton Mayor Whaley of Bribery in 2014, Court Documents Show
MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Ohio Capital Journal) | Published: 9/8/2021

The FBI suspected Dayton Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley in 2014 of accepting cash bribes from a city contractor, according to search warrant applications. Whaley was not charged with any crime. The warrants detail sworn statements from FBI agents to a federal judge outlining their suspicion of impropriety. In both instances, federal magistrates found probable cause to grant the warrants. In the documents, agents told the judge a controller for demolition company Steve Rauch Inc., which pleaded guilty last year to a charge of conspiracy to engage in mail fraud regarding subcontracting work, said in recorded phone calls with another company official that Whaley accepted cash bribes from Rauch on multiple occasions.

Ohio Most Cleveland Mayoral Candidates Won’t Disavow ‘Dark Money’ Spending
MSN – Seth Richardson (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/8/2021

Outside money has taken hold in the Cleveland mayoral race. Its prevalence has intensified as early voting continues for the September 14 primary with what appears to be a competitive race between seven candidates to succeed retiring Mayor Frank Jackson. Many of the groups are independent expenditure committees, meaning they can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money. The committees will eventually have to disclose their donors, though there are ways of complicating those disclosures to shield donors’ identities. Only two candidate said they outright disavowed any outside spending.

Pennsylvania ‘Unfortunate but Necessary’: Anthony Hamlet to resign as Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Andrew Goldstein | Published: 9/8/2021

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, who has faced increasing criticism in recent weeks, said he will resign effective in October. Hamlet has come under fire after the state Ethics Commission found he improperly received travel reimbursements, accepted payments for appearances related to his job, and incorrectly filed financial documents. He has defended his actions, arguing the report showed he was negligent but had no willful intent of wrongdoing. Robert Caruso, executive director of the Ethics Commission, noted Hamlet’s conduct over several years was “an egregious violation of the public trust.”

Rhode Island Governor’s Former Chief of Staff Faces Fine Over Unregistered Construction Company
MSN – Edward Fitzpatrick (Boston Globe) | Published: 9/3/2021

Days after resigning as chief of staff to Gov. Dan McKee, Anthony Silva has been slapped with a $1,000 fine by the state’s Department of Business Regulation (DBR) for building a home on land in Cumberland without the required contractor registration. The DBR’s investigation was one of three into Silva’s activities during the time he was chief of staff, first in the lieutenant governor’s office ant then in the governor’s office.

South Carolina SC Ethics Whistleblowers Are Bound by Gag Orders. A Lawsuit Will Challenge That.
Charleston Post and Courier – Avery Wilks | Published: 8/31/2021

In South Carolina, whistleblowers who want to file an ethics complaint against a public official are first sworn to secrecy. They cannot talk about their allegations until the State Ethics Commission has investigated the complaint and decided what to do. Breaking the seal of secrecy is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Observers have long suspected the rules violate free-speech protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. But now, a Columbia attorney is mounting a legal challenge to strike down the. gag orders for good.

Washington Employees Who Blew Whistle on Seattle Mayor’s Missing Texts File Lawsuit Against the City
Seattle Times – Lewis Kamb and Daniel Beekman | Published: 9/3/2021

The city employees who blew the whistle about Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s missing text messages sued the city, alleging they were “constructively discharged” from their jobs in retaliation for their refusal to break the public records law. In May, a Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission investigation report revealed Durkan’s texts from late August 2019 to late June 2020 had not been retained. Several high-profile lawsuits that have been filed against the city focus on decisions the mayor and other officials made in June 2020, during racial-justice protests and unrest on Capitol Hill.

Wisconsin US Senate Candidate from Wisconsin Charged with Campaign Finance Violations
Courthouse News Service – Joe Kelly | Published: 9/7/2021

Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, was charged with felony campaign finance violations and other financial misconduct. A criminal complaint alleges Lewis filed false campaign finance reports with inaccurate information on her campaign account balances, contributions. and disbursements, deposited campaign donations to her personal bank accounts, structured a campaign contribution as to avoid limit requirements, and used campaign funds for personal expenses. An embezzlement charge carries the highest penalty, which includes up to a $25,000 fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison, or both.

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