News You Can Use Digest - September 15, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

September 15, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 15, 2023


Former FTX Crypto Executive Pleads Guilty to Making Millions in Illegal Campaign Contributions

Associated Press News – Jake Offenhartz | Published: 9/7/2023

A former top executive at the failed FTX cryptocurrency exchange pleaded guilty to making tens of millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions and engaging in a criminal conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer business. Ryan Salame, the former co-chief executive of FTX Digital Markets, is the fourth high-ranking official at the company or its affiliates to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Judge Appears to Reject Trump Bid to Talk Classified Info at Mar-a-Lago

MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 9/13/2023

After he was charged with mishandling national security papers, former President Trump asked to be allowed to discuss classified evidence in the case right where he allegedly had kept the documents: at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home and private club.  The federal judge overseeing the case appeared to tell him no recently. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon issued protective order granting prosecutors’ request for a set of rules about how classified information and documents should be handled in the case, rules that conform to the general practice of federal courts.

Court Sets Strict Limits on Jan. 6 Probe’s Access to Rep. Perry’s Phone

MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 9/13/2023

A federal appeals court barred special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation from recovering cellphone texts and other communications between U.S. Rep. Scott Perry and other lawmakers and staff about overturning the 2020 election on January 6, 2021, and ruled a judge must individually review roughly 2,000 documents to decide which, if any, fall outside lawmakers’ constitutional immunity from criminal investigation. The opinion, which the Justice Department could appeal, prolongs a secret dispute that has tied up the search of the conservative lawmaker’s phone data for more than a year.

Diamonds, Girlfriends, Illicit Lobbying: The fall of a former ambassador

MSN – Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) | Published: 9/9/2023

When Richard Olson Jr. retired from the State Department in 2016, he was lauded by colleagues for an illustrious career that included high-profile postings as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. But previously undisclosed court records reveal the State Department’s inspector general investigated Olson for failing to report a $60,000 gift of diamond jewelry to his mother-in-law from the emir of Dubai. As part of a broader investigation, the FBI also questioned him about his extramarital affair with a journalist working in Pakistan while he was serving as the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad.

5th Circuit Finds Biden White House, CDC Likely Violated First Amendment

MSN – Cat Zakrzewski and Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 9/9/2023

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled the Biden White House, top government health officials, and the FBI likely violated the First Amendment by improperly influencing tech companies’ decisions to remove or suppress posts on the coronavirus and elections. The decision was likely to be seen as victory for conservatives who have long argued social media platforms’ content moderation efforts restrict their free speech rights. But some advocates also said the ruling was an improvement over a temporary injunction U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued in July.

Peter Navarro Convicted of Contempt for Defying Jan. 6 Panel Subpoena

MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 9/7/2023

Peter Navarro, a senior Trump White House aide and vocal election denier who has said he helped hatch a legislative scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race, was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. With right-wing provocateur Stephen Bannon, who was found guilty of contempt of Congress, Navarro is the second high-ranking Trump official to be convicted in a criminal case related to efforts to undo President Biden’s victory at the polls.

As GOP Investigates Prosecutors, Experts Worry About Judicial Independence

MSN – Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 9/9/2023

Probing investigators’ methods and scruples is a strategy that has been utilized by both political parties during tumultuous moments and is a well-worn tool for lawmakers seeking to give the appearance of oversight. The strategy has been effective in shaping public opinion of the investigations of Donald Trump after years of broadsides against the judicial system by Trump and his allies. But in the wake of 91 criminal charges against Trump, the party’s attacks on prosecutors threatens to degrade an important precedent that protects prosecutorial independence and the ability to fairly root out wrongdoing without partisan influence or gain.

What Ginni Thomas and Leonard Leo Wrought: How a justice’s wife and a key activist started a movement

MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 9/10/2023

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case transformed the world of politics. It loosened restrictions on campaign spending and unleashed a flow of anonymous donor money to nonprofit groups run by political activists. The conservative legal movement seized the moment with greater success than any other group, and the consequences have shaped American jurisprudence and politics in dramatic ways.

Kevin McCarthy Announces House Will Begin an Impeachment Inquiry into Biden

NBC News – Rebecca Kaplan, Summer Concepcion, and Sahil Kapur | Published: 9/12/2023

Speaker Kevin McCarthy directed three House committees to open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden to seek bank records and other documents from the president and his son Hunter Biden. McCarthy’s decision represents a major reversal for the speaker after he had he would not open an impeachment inquiry without a vote of the full House. McCarthy faces criticism from across the GOP spectrum due to the lack of evidence implicating the president in Hunter Biden’s transgressions.

Constitutional Debate Over Trump’s Eligibility to Run More Extensive Than Realized

Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 9/6/2023

The idea of barring Donald Trump from seeking the presidency on grounds that it would violate the 14th Amendment may be an increasingly popular constitutional argument pushed by a segment of legal scholars and activists. But it turns out election officials have been discussing how to handle it for months. The legal theory argues Trump is constitutionally disqualified from running for president under the amendment’s “insurrection clause,” which states that anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” after taking an oath of office to defend the Constitution is forbidden from holding public office.

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Doug Ford Recommends Possible Jail Time for Ontario Lobbyists Caught Breaking the Rules

CTV – Katherine DeClerq | Published: 9/6/2023

Ontario Premier Doug Ford instructed the province’s attorney general to review legislation governing lobbyists and add increased penalties, including jail time, if they break rules. The request comes amid an integrity commissioner report that highlighted how certain developers with access to staff within the housing ministry were given an unfair advantage when it came to a development deal in Clarington. The government has committed to reviewing legislation governing lobbyists in the coming weeks.

Alabama – Alabama Asks US Supreme Court Again to Intervene in Redistricting Case

Yahoo News – Kim Chandler (Associated Press) | Published: 9/12/2203

Alabama asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let it keep Republican-drawn congressional lines in place as the state continues to fight a court order to create a second district where Black voters constitute a majority or close to it. Despite losing at the Supreme Court earlier this year in the redistricting case, the state is pursuing another appeal, hoping for a different result with the most recent Republican version of the map. Alabama asked the justices to stay a ruling issued by a three-judge panel that blocked the use of the latest districts in upcoming elections and directed a court-appointed special master to propose new lines for the state.

Alaska – Supporters of Effort to Repeal Ranked Voting in Alaska Violated Rules, Report Finds

Associated Press News – Becky Bohrer | Published: 9/13/2023

Backers of an effort to repeal ranked voting in Alaska violated state campaign finance rules, including by channeling money through a church-affiliated organization in a way that initially concealed the source of the contributions, a new report alleges. The report from the staff for the Alaska Public Offices Commission recommends penalties of $22,500 for Art Mathias, a leader of the repeal effort, and approximately $20,000 for the church-affiliated Ranked Choice Education Association among its findings.

California – Irvine Becomes Second Orange County City to Eye Tightening Lobbyist Rules

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada | Published: 9/14/2023

After the corruption scandal kicked off in Anaheim last year, residents and activists throughout Orange County began asking questions about the impacts of lobbyists and if they wield outsized influence. It is a scandal that also touched on Irvine City Hall, where Mayor Farrah Khan’s former consultant Melahat Rafiei admitted to attempted bribery in 2018, forcing officials there to rethink their relationship with lobbyists. Now, new restrictions on lobbyists could be coming to after city council members voted to have city staff come back with proposals to strengthen the city’s disclosure rules.

California – Will Disney’s Representative Have to Register as a Lobbyist at Anaheim City Hall?

Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 9/13/2023

The Anaheim City Council is considering beefing up the city’s lobbyist rules in the wake of the corruption scandal and may require government relations employees to register as lobbyists. It marked the first in a series of reform discussions set to take place over the next few months. An investigation detailed a loose network of lobbyists, with little enforcement of the city’s current rules and alleged multiple high-profile lobbyists violated the law by failing to report a host of meetings with officials. Currently, only contracted lobbyists are required to register with the city.

California – Former Anaheim Mayor, Who Admitted to Corruption, Funds Legal Defense with Campaign Money

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada | Published: 9/7/2023

Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has been wrestling with public corruption allegations from the U.S. Department of Justice over the past year, which ended when he signed a plea agreement admitting to the charges. But he did not pay for his own legal defense, his campaign donors did, a total of $300,000 according to campaign finance disclosures. California Fair Political Practices Commission rules make no mention of elected officials being able to use the funds to defend themselves from criminal prosecution.

Connecticut – Supreme Court Hears Free Speech Arguments in Public Campaign Finance Case

CT News Junkie – Hugh McQuaid | Published: 9/13/2023

The publicly funded campaigns of former Sen. Joe Markley and then-Rep. Rob Sampson jointly criticized Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2014, including one shared mailer, each paying half the cost. That campaign expenditure and similar ones ignited a free-speech fight that reached the state Supreme Court over whether restrictions on using public campaign funds conflicts with the First Amendment. At issue was whether Markley and Sampson’s criticism of Malloy, who was seeking reelection in 2014, was furthering their own campaigns or boosting the governor’s Republican challenger, Tom Foley.

Florida – DeSantis Took Undisclosed Private Flights and Lodging Through Wealthy Donors

MSN – Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 9/14/2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took at least six undisclosed trips on private jets and accepted lodging and dining in late 2018, according to documents that reflect his proclivity for luxury travel and leisure time with wealthy donors. The trips came during the period between DeSantis’s election and inauguration as governor. DeSantis did not report the flights or accommodations as gifts or campaign contributions, and it is unclear whether he used a separate legal option to personally reimburse for the flights at the cost of coach airfare.

Florida – After Years of Delay, State Dismisses Sexual Harassment Case Against Former Sen. Latvala

Yahoo News – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/8/2023

Latvala, who resigned in 2018 after allegations he had sexually harassed a legislative aide and a former lobbyist. Both women continue to stand by their allegations that Latvala, one of the most powerful men in state government, had used his positional power over them to grope them, make inappropriate sexual comments, and make sexual advances. But neither wanted to continue with an ethics trial and said they were exhausted by the emotional turmoil and five-year wait for the state to mete out justice.

Georgia – Trump Won’t Be Tried with Powell and Chesebro Next Month in the Georgia Election Case, a Judge Rules

Associated Press News – Kate Brumback | Published: 9/14/2023

A judge ruled former President Trump and 16 others will be tried separately from two defendants who are set to go to trial in October in the case accusing them of participating in an illegal scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. Lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro had filed demands for a speedy trial. Trump and other defendants asked to be tried separately from Powell and Chesebro, with some saying they could not be ready by the October 23 trial date.

Georgia – Judge Denies Mark Meadows’s Effort to Move Georgia Case to Federal Court

MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2023

A federal judge denied a request from former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to move the Georgia election-interference case against him from state to federal court, a shift he had sought on the grounds he was a federal officer at the time of the actions that led to his indictment. Meadows had hoped a move to federal court could lead to a dismissal of the case because h as a federal officer, he is immune from prosecution for acts taken in the course of his normal work.

Georgia – Georgia Special Grand Jury Recommended Charging Lindsey Graham in Trump Case

MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2023

An Atlanta-area special grand jury that investigated alleged 2020 election interference in Georgia by Donald Trump and his allies recommended charging one of Trump’s closest associates, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and 37 other people, a far larger group than a prosecutor ultimately charged. The final report by the special grand jury largely echoed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s theory of the case, alleging a sweeping criminal conspiracy to subvert Joe Biden’s legitimate election win in Georgia.

Illinois – Chicago Ethics Board Defends Handling of Melissa Conyears-Ervin Allegations, Refers Such Complaints to Inspector General

MSN – Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/11/2023

Less than a week after the release of a 2020 letter alleging city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin abused her office, the head of the Chicago Board of Ethics said the board handles all such complaints properly by referring them to the city’s inspector general’s office, but it cannot do more unless it receives detailed findings from the inspector general. Under questioning for days about why the board has not acted on the letter even though it and the city Law Department received a copy in December 2020, Ethics Board Chairperson William Conlon defended the board’s actions while also declining to discuss any case specifically.

Illinois – Johnson Transition Leader Agrees to Pay $10,000 Fine for Violating Lobbying Regulation

WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 9/12/2023

One of the leaders of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition team will pay a $10,000 fine to resolve charges brought by the Chicago Board of Ethics that he violated the city’s lobbying regulations. Djavan Conway, who owns Conway Consulting Group, acknowledged he failed to terminate his registration as a City Hall lobbyist in January 2021. Conway’s failure to notify officials he was not lobbying in 2022 triggered daily fines of $1,000.

Indiana – Campaign Finance Contributions on the Indiana Supreme Court Docket

Indiana Capital Chronicle – Whitney Downard | Published: 9/7/2023

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that would determine whether the state’s election code prohibits or limits corporate contributions to PACs that engage in independent campaign-related expenditures. Attorney James Bopp said while his client, the Indiana Right to Life Victory Fund, has not been limited by the state’s campaign finance laws or restricted from making contributions, a “plain language” reading of statute could potentially harm PAC activities in the future.

Maryland – Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott Asks Ethics Board for Guidance on Keeping Campaign Separated from City Business

MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 9/7/2023

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott requested guidance from the Board of Ethics on how to keep his campaign separate from city business as the race for mayor begins to heat up. Scott asked for written guidance and an in-person meeting between city ethics officials and Scott’s senior staff. Scott has made moves recently that have intermingled campaign and official duties.

Massachusetts – Attorney General in Settlement Negotiations with State GOP, Senator Over Alleged Campaign Finance Violations

MSN – Matt Stout (Boston Globe) | Published: 9/8/2023

State General Andrea Campbell’s office is negotiating a potential settlement with the Massachusetts Republican Party, its former leader, and a state senator, among others, over alleged campaign finance violations, signaling the years-long probe could be nearing a close. Campaign finance regulators first referred evidence to prosecutors in 2021 that then-state GOP Chairperson Jim Lyons, as well as state Sen. Ryan Fattman and Worcester County register of probate Stephanie Fattman, may have violated various campaign finance laws during the 2020 election, including those barring people from disguising the true source of donations.

Michigan – FOIA Friday: Private business ties raise calls for ethics reforms

Axios – Samuel Robinson | Published: 9/8/2023

Michigan Republicans are calling on House Democrats to move on legislation to bring financial disclosure requirements to lawmakers following a media investigation of state Rep. Angela Witwer. She has maintained a close relationship with the consulting firm she founded, The Detroit News found. The firm, Edge Partnerships, has worked with trade associations and agencies like the Michigan Department of Education, whose funding is set by lawmakers, including Witwer in her influential role as House Appropriations Committee chairperson.

Michigan – Michigan Ethics Board Finds State Arts Council Member Violated Conflict of Interest Rules

Detroit News – Beth LeBlanc | Published: 9/7/2023

A rarely used state ethics panel ruled an appointee to the Michigan Arts and Culture Council violated ethics policy by failing to recuse herself from several votes on grants for organizations she leads. The State Board of Ethics ruled Deborah Mikula violated two sections of the state ethics law related to conflicts-of-interest but did not violate two other provisions when she voted in favor of grants for the Michigan Library Association, where she serves as executive director, and the Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan, where she once served as president.

New York – Judge Rules N.Y.’s Ethics Commission Is Unconstitutional in Cuomo Case

Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 9/11/2023

A state Supreme Court justice ruled that a commission created last year to enforce ethics rules for New York’s employees and elected officials violates the state’s constitution because it is too independent. The ruling was issued in a court battle in which former Gov. Andrew Cuomo has fought against the ethics commission’s efforts to investigate a $5 million deal he received for writing a book about his administration’s handling of the pandemic. The decision is expected to be reviewed by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

New York – Ulrich, the Ex-NYC Building Commissioner, Indicted by Bragg in Sweeping Corruption Case

MSN – Joe Anuta, Jeff Coltin, and Emily Ngo (Politico) | Published: 9/13/2023

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg released a multi-count indictment of former city Department of Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich, accusing him of abusing his position and in his role as a former adviser to Mayor Eric Adams. Ulrich was among seven people charged in the wide-ranging indictment. “We allege that Eric Ulrich accepted or solicited more than $150,000 worth of bribes in less than two years by monetizing each elected and appointed role he held in New York City government,” Bragg said.

Ohio – Ohio Will Use Congressional Map Previously Ruled Unconstitutional Again in 2024, as Court Dismisses Legal Challenges

MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/7/2023

Ohio will use the same congressional districts in 2024 that it used last year, as the state Supreme Court granted the dismissal of two legal challenges to the map the court previously deemed to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits had sought the dismissal of their own cases, saying they do not want voters to be in limbo ahead of the election. They also fear that if the current map is thrown out, Republicans would draw an even more GOP-friendly map than the current one, under which Republicans hold 10 seats and Democrats hold five.

Ohio – Rep. Bob Young Resigns from Ohio House as He Faces Domestic Violence Charges

Yahoo News – Haley BeMiller (Akron Beacon Journal) | Published: 9/8/2023

State Rep. Bob Young announced his resignation from the Ohio House as he faces allegations of domestic violence and violating a restraining order. Young was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and assault in July. He is accused of slapping his wife during a private party at his home following a fundraiser.

Oklahoma – Leaders Concerned About the Future of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission

Tulsa World – Randy Krehbiel | Published: 9/11/2023

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission has six employees and a budget of about $820,000 a year, making it one of the smallest and least-funded state agencies. Its executive director is leaving at the end of the year and its online database will go dark during the middle of next year’s campaign season if something is not done soon. Commissioner Jarred Brejcha is confident the panel can handle the flood of money, much of it untraceable, pouring into races at every level. Others, including the exiting executive and a former commissioner, are not nearly as convinced.

Pennsylvania – A Judge Ruled Against the Philly Ethics Board in Its Case Against Super PAC That Supported Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown

MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 9/12/2023

Court of Common Pleas Judge Joshua Roberts dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city Board of Ethics that alleged mayoral candidate Jeff Brown illegally coordinated with For a Better Philadelphia, a super PAC. Roberts’ ruling neither rejected any of the facts laid out by the board nor challenged the board’s authority to regulate super PACs, which are allowed to accept unlimited donations but are prohibited from coordinating with campaigns. Instead, the judge focused on a debate over definitions that had been central to the case.

South Carolina – Former Richland Councilwoman Hit with $300K Ethics Fine. Here’s How She Can Cut It by 90%

Yahoo News – Bristow Marchant (The State) | Published: 9/8/2023

After years of failure to disclose her financial interests and campaign spending to the state, a former member of Richland County Council has been hit with a nearly $300,000 penalty by the South Carolina Ethics Commission. But commissioners gave former Councilperson Gwendolyn Kennedy a window to avoid paying most of her fine. The commission found Kennedy committed 134 separate violations of state ethics law and campaign disclosure requirements dating to her time on county council from 2016 to 2020. The commission reached its decision after an August 17 hearing, at which the commission order notes Kennedy did not appear.

Tennessee – Did Commissioner and Developer Break Rules on Property Sale? Ethics Committee Will Decide

Yahoo News – Allie Feinberg (Knoxville News Sentinel) | Published: 9/13/2023

The Knox County Ethics Committee is considering a complaint filed against a county commissioner and a well-known developer over whether a property sale violated the ethics code ethics code. Scott Davis of Mesana Investments transferred ownership of a plot of land to Commissioner Kyle Ward, who paid $10 for the land, which the county appraised for more than $50,000 earlier this year. The complaint alleges Ward accepted a gift of over $50,000, which violates the ethics code.

Texas – Texas AG Ken Paxton Won’t Lose State Pension – Even If Convicted at Impeachment Trial

MSN – Robert Garrett and Lauren McGaughey (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 9/13/2023

No matter how his impeachment trial turns out, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s state pension is not in jeopardy. Paxton is among an elite set of elected officials. Even if they are impeached, convicted, and booted from office, state legislators and statewide officeholders such as Paxton retain their pensions. Only judges, who are enrolled in a separate pension fund, lose these retirement benefits if they are impeached and removed.

Virginia – Candidate in High-Stakes Virginia Election Performed Sex Acts with Husband in Live Videos

MSN – Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie (Associated Press) | Published: 9/11/2023

A candidate in a high-stakes legislative contest in Virginia had sex with her husband in live videos posted on a pornographic website and asked viewers to pay them money in return for carrying out specific sex acts. Susanna Gibson, who is running for a seat in the House of Delegates in a district just outside Richmond, issued a statement in which it denounced the sharing of the videos as a violation of the law and her privacy. The contest will carry significant weight in determining the balance of power in the Virginia General Assembly.

Virginia – Youngkin Borrowed Altria’s Jet. No One Will Say Where He Went.

Virginia Public Media – Ben Paviour | Published: 9/11/2023

Gov. Glenn Youngkin flew on Altria’s private jet to and from an undisclosed location at an unknown time, according to campaign finance records. Neither his campaign committee nor Altria will say who else was on board or give any other details about the trip. It is one of a handful of times Youngkin has benefited from donors who have given him at least $365,000 worth of unspecified “flight services” as part of his political work. Altria is a major player in Virginia politics and the General Assembly.

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