News You Can Use Digest - September 16, 2022 - State and Federal Communications

September 16, 2022  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 16, 2022


A Record Number of Black Candidates for Higher Offices Aim to Reshape U.S. Politics
MSN – Tim Craig (Washington Post) | Published: 9/13/2022

A record number of Black men and women are running for U.S. Senate and governor this fall, with the potential to increase diversity in the nation’s top elected offices, which are still overwhelmingly held by White men. Since Reconstruction, voters have elected just seven Black senators and two Black governors. While many of them face tough odds, some have posted strong poll numbers and fundraising totals, waging credible campaigns that challenge long-held attitudes about whether Black candidates can be competitive in statewide races.

Durham Inquiry Appears to Wind Down as Grand Jury Expires
Yahoo News – Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 9/14/2022

When John Durham was assigned by the Justice Department to examine the origins of the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, then-President Trump and his supporters expressed a belief the inquiry would prove a “deep state” conspiracy including top Obama-era officials had worked to sabotage him. Now Durham appears to be winding down his three-year inquiry without anything close to the results Trump was seeking. The grand jury that Durham has recently used to hear evidence has expired, and while he could convene another, there are currently no plans to do so.

FEC Unanimously Rejects Complaints About Zuckerberg’s 2020 Election Grants
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2022

A unanimous bipartisan vote by the FEC undercut claims about Mark Zuckerberg’s role in the 2020 election that have taken hold among GOP leaders, candidates, and activists. The claims originate in the more than $400 million donated by Zuckerberg, the chief executive and founder of Meta, and his wife to a pair of nonprofits that provided grants aiding state and local governments with election administration in light of the challenges posed by the coronavirus. The funding from Zuckerberg soon became kindling for the firestorm unleashed by former President Trump and his allies as they questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

In Final Primaries, Heated GOP Fights in N.H. Include a Blow to McCarthy
MSN – Colby Itkowitz and David Weigel (Washington Post) | Published: 9/13/2022

The 2022 primaries concluded on a familiar note – with voters in Republican races choosing between far-right, election-denying candidates and more moderate rivals, and party leaders divided in contests factoring into the battle for control of Congress. New Hampshire was one of three states where voters went to the polls, marking the end of this year’s nominating process, along with Rhode Island and Delaware. The primaries allowed voters a final chance to choose party standard-bearers after months of fierce intraparty battles that highlighted divisions on both sides over policy, personality, and ideology, among other things.

Judge Dismisses Trump Lawsuit Against Hillary Clinton Over 2016 Election
MSN – Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 9/9/2022

A federal judge dismissed Donald Trump’s lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying there was no basis for the former president to claim Clinton and her allies harmed him with an orchestrated plan to spread false information that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks noted “glaring structural deficiencies in the plaintiff’s argument” and said, “such pleadings waste judicial resources and are an unacceptable form of establishing a claim for relief.”

Justice Dept. Issues 40 Subpoenas in a Week, Expanding Jan. 6 Inquiry
Seattle Times – Adam Goldman, Glenn Thrush, Alan Feuer, and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 9/13/2022

Justice Department officials seized the phones of two top advisers to former President Trump and blanketed his aides with about 40 subpoenas in a substantial escalation of the investigation into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election. The seizure of the phones, coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Trump after the 2020 election, represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Justice Dept. Says It Would Accept Trump’s Candidate for Special Master
MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 9/12/2022

The Justice Department filed court papers signaling it would accept a former federal judge as a special master charged with reviewing papers seized by the FBI from former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and club. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon must approve Raymond Dearie’s appointment. Dearie was proposed by Trump’s lawyers amid a legal battle over whether a special master should review the documents to determine whether any should be kept from federal prosecutors investigating the potential mishandling of classified material and the possible hiding, tampering, or destruction of government records.

Migrants Flown to Martha’s Vineyard as GOP Escalates Immigration Protest
MSN – Ellen Francis (Washington Post) | Published: 9/15/2022

Dozens of migrants arrived by plane in Martha’s Vineyard, as some Republican governors escalate a campaign against President Biden’s border policies by shuttling refugees out of their states and to Democratic-led states or liberal enclaves. Their arrival in the affluent summer resort island in Massachusetts appeared to prompt confusion about where they had come from and how. The communications director for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said two flights were part of a state program to relocate undocumented immigrants.

Prosecutors Seek Details from Trump’s PAC in Expanding Jan. 6 Probe
MSN – Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2022

The Justice Department is seeking details about the formation and operation of Donald Trump’s post-presidential political operation in a significant expansion of the criminal investigation of the attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A federal grand jury sent subpoenas to a wide range of former campaign and White House staffers asking for information about the Save America PAC. Sources described the subpoenas as broad, seeking all documents and communications about opening the PAC and every dollar raised and spent.

Stock Trades Reported by Nearly a Fifth of Congress Show Possible Conflicts
News Inside Era – Kate Kelley, Adam Playford, and Alicia Parlapiano (New York Times) | Published: 9/13/2022

Ninety-seven U.S. senators or representatives who reported trades by themselves or immediate family members in stocks or other financial assets that intersected with the work of committees on which they serve, according to an analysis of trades from 2019 to 2021. The potential for conflicts in stock trading by members of Congress, and their choice so far not to impose stricter limits on themselves, has long drawn criticism, especially when particularly blatant cases emerge. Over the three-year period, more than 3,700 trades reported by lawmakers from both parties posed potential conflicts between their public responsibilities and private finances.

Trump Backers Flood Election Offices with Requests as 2022 Vote Nears
MSN – Amy Gardner and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 9/11/2022

Supporters of former President Trump have swamped local election offices across the nation in recent weeks with a coordinated campaign of requests for 2020 voting records, in some cases paralyzing preparations for the fall election season. In nearly two dozen states and scores of counties, election officials are fielding what many describe as an unprecedented wave of public records requests in the final weeks of summer, one they say may be intended to hinder their work and weaken an already strained system.

What Makes State Legislatures Uniquely Prone to Alleged Harassment
MinnPost – Jennifer Gerson (The 19th) | Published: 9/7/2022

Statehouses, a place where the powerful and the less empowered rub shoulders as part of the policy-making process, are a place where abuse and harassment can flourish in the shadows, and consequences are slow to come if they come at all. Dealing with alleged harassment in remains a maze of bureaucratic red tape that, despite efforts to improve processes, has left people in uncomfortable power dynamics or complete inaction after alleged sexual harassment or bullying.

When a Man with a Pistol Shows Up Outside a Congresswoman’s House
MSN – Ruby Kramer (Washington Post) | Published: 9/8/2022

Threats against members of Congress have risen year after year, according to data from the Capitol Police: 9,625 in 2021, up from 3,939 in 2017. Officers logged nearly 2,000 cases in the first three months of this year alone. Among the statistics, there are thousands of stories like that of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. An armed man who reportedly threatened to kill Jayapal was arrested outside her Seattle home recently. The incident demonstrated to Jayapal how many gaps exist in congressional security.

From the States and Municipalities

Arkansas Ethics Filing Against Flowers Frivolous, Senate Panel Says; Suspension Recommended for Clark
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Michael Wickline | Published: 9/10/2022

The Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee recommended the chamber suspend state Sen. Alan Clark for the rest of this year and strip him of seniority for the rest of this year and the next two years. The committee concluded that Clark’s charges of ethics violations against Sen. Stephanie Flowers were spurious, frivolous, and retaliatory. Clark filed a complaint against Flowers alleging she violated the Senate’s code of ethics by accepting legislative per diem payments for participating by Zoom in the Senate’s regular session meetings in 2021.

California Anaheim Council Tightens Lobbyist Rules
MSN – Alicia Robinson (Orange County Register) | Published: 9/14/2022

Anaheim City Council members voted unanimously to support an ordinance tightening lobbyist regulations. Acting as a lobbyist but failing to register with the city, not filing disclosure reports as required, or filing inaccurate reports could result in a misdemeanor charge under the proposed rules. A second vote is required for the new rules to become law. Registered lobbyists will also have to attest under penalty of perjury their reports are true and accurate; perjury is a felony charge under state law.

California Karen Bass Got a USC Degree for Free. It’s Now Pulling Her into a Federal Corruption Case
MSN – Matthew Brown (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/7/2022

A full tuition scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC) led to the indictment of former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of USC’s social work program, Marilyn Flynn, on bribery and fraud charges. Another scholarship recipient, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, is the leading contender to be the next mayor of Los Angeles. Federal prosecutors have not indicated Bass is under a criminal investigation. But prosecutors have now declared that Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC are “critical” to their bribery case and to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university’s social work program.

California L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s Home Searched by Sheriff’s Investigators
Yahoo News – Alene Tchekmedyian (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/14/2022

Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators searched the house of county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl as part of a criminal investigation into a county contract awarded to a nonprofit organization. A copy of the warrant showed the search was tied to an ongoing probe into Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by Patti Giggans, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and a close friend to Kuehl. Both Kuehl and Giggans have clashed with Sheriff Alex Villanueva and called for his resignation.

California Voters Push to Take Local Redistricting from Politicians
CalMatters – Sameea Kamal | Published: 9/14/2022

California’s independent redistricting commission has received generally good reviews for its new maps that voters are using to elect legislators and members of Congress in November. But voters who say they are disenfranchised want similar panels to draw their local districts. Three bills on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would overrule local officials and require independent redistricting commissions in Fresno, Kern, and Riverside counties. If signed into law, those panels would work on districts for the boards of supervisors in those counties, starting after the next Census in 2030.

Colorado FBI Seizes Mike Lindell’s Phone in Probe of Colo. Voting Machine Breach
MSN – Jon Swaine and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 9/14/2022

FBI agents seized a cellphone belonging to Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and prominent election denier, as part of a federal investigation into an alleged breach of voting machines in Colorado, according to Lindell. Lindell said the agents questioned him about Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk who was indicted on charges she helped an outsider copy sensitive data from the county’s elections systems. The action against Lindell, who has financed films, conferences, and other media promoting disinformation about elections, points to a widening of the federal investigation into the alleged breach in Mesa County.

Florida ‘Make His Life a Living Hell.’ The FPL-financed plot to torpedo a Miami lawmaker
MSN – Mary Ellen Klas and Nicholas Nehamas (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/9/2022

Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) chief political operative, Jeff Pitts, used a maze of nonprofits to secretly finance an operation aimed at defeating state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and replace him with a Republican less hostile to FPL’s interests. Rodríguez lost his bid for reelection in 2020 by 34 votes. It was part of an alleged “ghost candidate” plot in which “spoiler” candidates ran in a total of three state Senate races to help defeat Democratic candidates, who indeed lost. Two people have been criminally charged in connection with the effort to defeat Rodríguez, including a former state senator considered a staunch ally of FPL during his years in office.

Georgia Former Atlanta Official Gets 14 Years in Corruption Case
Yahoo News – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 9/8/2022

A former high-ranking Atlanta official was sentenced to 14 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of charges stemming from a long-running federal investigation into corruption at City Hall. In addition to the prison time, the judge ordered Mitzi Vickers to pay nearly $3 million in restitution to the city. Bickers was the first person to go to trial in the investigation into corruption during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. She helped Reed win election and then worked as his director of human services for several years.

Georgia Georgia’s Biggest County Can’t Find a Top Elections Official
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 9/7/2022

For 10 months, local leaders have been unable to hire a permanent director to run the Department of Registration and Elections in Fulton County, home to Atlanta. The previous director resigned in November and left the position in April, after pressure from local lawmakers and the turmoil of the 2020 election, when county staff endured death threats, baseless conspiracy theories, high-stakes audits, and harassment from former Donald Trump and his allies. The staff has worked through the uncertainty under an interim director, but the county has been slow to implement changes mandated by a sweeping new election law.

Hawaii Attorney For Mitsunaga’s Engineering Firm Has Been Arrested in Bribery Case
Honolulu Civil Beat – Christina Jedra | Published: 9/13/2022

Sheri Tanaka, an attorney for a prominent engineering firm whose chief executive officer is fighting federal charges, was arrested in California in connection with her client’s case and is currently in custody. Tanaka has been charged alongside Dennis Mitsunaga and associates of his firm who were accused of bribing former Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. Federal prosecutors say Mitsunaga and his accomplices directed over $45,000 to the prosecutor so he would pursue a bogus prosecution of a former employee of the firm, Laurel Mau.

Illinois Board of Review’s Probe into Bribes for Tax Breaks Is Stymied by Employee’s ‘Inability to Recall Passcode’ to County-Issued Cellphone
Chicago Sun-Times – Mitch Dudek | Published: 9/9/2022

An employee of the Cook County Board of Review under investigation for accepting bribes to lower property taxes stymied a law firm hired to look into the matter by refusing to be interviewed and claiming he forgot the passcode to his county-issued cellphone. A cooperating witness in the case broached the idea of having property assessments lowered for an associate. A picture of the employee thumbing a stack of cash was included in an affidavit. The employee told a cooperating witness he was “just the middle guy” and the cash was intended to be split with others in his office, according to the affidavit.

Maryland Montgomery School Leaders Defend Contract Given to Board Member’s Spouse
MSN – Nicole Asbury (Washington Post) | Published: 9/13/2022

Montgomery County’s schools superintendent defended the system’s decision to award a STEM learning contract to a company owned by a school board member’s spouse and blamed concerns over the award process on an inaccurate document on the board’s website. The Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County raised concerns before a school board vote that the contract for MoCo KidsCo Inc. was being awarded as a no-bid contract, with no discussion by the school board, a lack of competition, and a conflict-of-interest.

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey Ruling Derails Bid to Limit Super PAC Contributions in Massachusetts
MassLive – Matt Murphy (State House News Service) | Published: 9/9/2022

Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections as long as they do not coordinate directly with any campaigns. The spending has come under fire from some candidates who oppose the influence money has on the process. But a bid to curtail the ability of super PACs to raise and spend huge sums in Massachusetts was nixed by state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office as “inconsistent” with constitutional rights to free speech.

Massachusetts SJC Considers Lobbying by Federal Felons, Like Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi
MSN – Shelley Murphy (Boston Globe) | Published: 9/8/2022

Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi began working as a lobbyist on Beacon Hill nine years after a federal jury found him guilty of fraud and extortion for taking bribes while in office. The state’s highest court heard arguments over whether DiMasi should have been forced to wait a little longer to embark on his new career, based on a state law that bars people convicted of certain state crimes from registering as lobbyists until 10 years after their convictions.

Massachusetts State’s Public Campaign Financing Program Means Candidates Can Spend Big in November Election
MassLive – Chris Lisinski (State House News Service) | Published: 9/12/2022

Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll can drain their entire accumulated campaign money in their bid for governor and lieutenant governor, Massachusetts campaign finance officials said. At least one candidate in each of the five statewide contests this fall sought to participate in the state’s public campaign financing program, which triggered a requirement for all other contestants in those races to declare self-imposed spending caps. The largest limit in each race becomes the cap for all candidates in that field. Healey and Driscoll told the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance their self-imposed spending would be limited to a maximum of $6.9 million.

Michigan Michigan Supreme Court Puts Abortion on the November Ballot
Yahoo News – Alice Miranda Ollstein (Politico) | Published: 9/8/2022

The Michigan Supreme Court certified a sweeping abortion rights initiative for the November ballot, giving voters a chance to decide whether the procedure remains legal or whether a nearly 100-year-old ban goes back into effect. The emergency ruling overrides a party-line tie vote by the Board of State Canvassers, which blocked the certification of the proposed constitutional amendment. The two Republicans on that panel sided with conservative groups that argued spacing and formatting errors on the text canvassers presented to voters rendered the entire effort invalid.

Mississippi Former Gov. Phil Bryant Helped Brett Favre Secure Welfare Funding for USM Volleyball Stadium, Texts Reveal
Mississippi Today – Anna Wolfe | Published: 9/13/2022

Newly released text messages show Brett Favre, former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, and others worked together to channel at least $5 million of the state’s welfare funds to build a new volleyball stadium at University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre’s daughter played the sport. The texts show the then-governor even guided Favre on how to write a funding proposal so it could be accepted by the state Department of Human Services. In total, nonprofit leaders misspent at least $77 million in funds that were supposed to help the needy, forensic auditors found.

Montana Super PAC Faces New Allegations in Montana
Montana Free Press – Alex Sakariassen | Published: 9/9/2022

An out-of-state political organization found to have violated Montana campaign finance law continues to face questions about its activity in three legislative races during the 2022 primary election, even as it pursues legal action against the commissioner of political practices. The Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint against the Convention of States Political Fund, a Michigan-based super PAC that spent more than $126,000 on political flyers and radio ads in Montana earlier this year.

New York Rensselaer County’s Republican Elections Commissioner Arrested by FBI
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 9/13/2022

Jason Schofield, the Rensselaer County Board of Elections commissioner, was arrested by the FBI and charged with fraudulently obtaining and filing absentee ballots last year using the personal information of at least eight voters without their permission. The ballots were filled out and submitted in last year’s primary election, the general election, and sometimes both. In some instances, documentation was completed falsely claiming the ballots were mailed to the voters at their residences.

Ohio Ex-Ohio Governor Candidate Joe Blystone Threatened with Prosecution Over Alleged Campaign-Finance Violations
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/8/2022

Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office says it will seek to refer Joe Blystone, who ran for Ohio governor earlier this year, to prosecutors for campaign finance violations if he does not accept a deal that includes turning over all his remaining campaign money to state officials. Blystone has been under scrutiny for a number of issues, including not properly recording thousands of dollars in small donations. Last March, LaRose’s office flagged more than $100,000 in contributions to Blystone’s campaign that appear to violate the state’s limit on cash contributions or ban on corporate donations.

Ohio Former Butler County Elected Official Indicted on Corruption Charges
Yahoo – Cincinnati Enquirer staff | Published: 9/14/2022

A grand jury indicted Madison Township Trustee Alan Daniel on seven public corruption-related charges. The case had been referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission, which made a referral to the Butler County prosecutor’s office for criminal charges. State Auditor Keith Faber noted several votes Daniel cast as a trustee that Faber said directly impacted a family member. Daniel voted on 20 road department ordinances in 2018 and 15 in 2019 “from which he should have abstained because he is the father of Road Supervisor Todd Daniel,” Faber recently wrote to Madison Township officials.

Ohio Ohio Supreme Court: ‘Targeted picketing’ ban unconstitutional
Ohio Capital Journal – Susan Tebben | Published: 9/14/2022

The Ohio Supreme Court took issue with a ban on “targeted picketing” of public officials in a new ruling. The justices ruled an education board violated picketers’ rights by putting a stop to public protests, calling Ohio Revised Code language on organizing a protest at public officials’ homes or workplaces “a form of expressive-activity suppression that is irreconcilable with the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Pennsylvania Clandestine Plan to Force a Vote on Pa. Legislative Gift Ban Fails, Lawmakers Shrug
Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 9/14/2022

Pennsylvania lawmakers can accept gifts from anyone if they disclose items more than $250 on annual interest forms. Proposals to tighten the law have died over the years with no debate until last fall, when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed interest in a more comprehensive gift ban. Activists recently said one unidentified House member would force a vote on whether to consider the bill, defying Republican leadership. But as one of the last scheduled session days of the year ended, no one stood up, leaving advocates with nothing to do but concede.

South Carolina SC Supreme Court Says Attorney General’s $75M Payment to Law Firms Can Be Questioned
MSN – John Monk (The State) | Published: 9/14/2022

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that John Crangle, who writes extensively on governmental ethics issues, has the right to challenge state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s award of a $75 million legal fee to two law firms. Wilson had signed a contingency fee agreement with the firms that awarded them a percentage of a settlement concerning the disposal of dangerous plutonium in the state. Crangle and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation contended the $75 million fee was unreasonable and unconstitutional.

South Dakota Documents Show Gov. Kristi Noem Tried to Avoid Ethics Hearing, Seal Records
Yahoo News – Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 9/9/2022

Documents show South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem asked the state Government Accountability Board to dismiss a complaint against her without a public hearing and to seal off certain records. News reports said shortly after a state agency moved to deny her daughter, Kassidy Peters, a real estate appraiser license, Noem held a meeting with Peters and key decision-makers in her licensure. After the meeting, Peters signed an agreement that gave her another opportunity to meet the licensing requirements. The South Dakota Legislature’s audit committee approved a report that found Noem’s daughter got preferential treatment.

Wyoming Elections Official Files Complaint Against Conservative PAC
WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 9/13/2022

Campbell County’s chief elections officer filed a complaint against Coal Country Conservatives Political Action Committee, calling on the FEC and the Wyoming secretary of state to undertake a “swift and robust investigation.” The complaint by Campbell County Clerk Susan Saunders, names both the federal PAC and a Wyoming entity of the same name. Chief among Saunders’ concerns is a potentially improper campaign finance relationship between the two organizations and a lack of disclosure on the part of both.

Wyoming Some Wyoming Republicans Want to Limit the Secretary of State after Trump’s Pick Wins
Wyoming Public Radio – Bob Beck | Published: 9/8/2022

Wyoming’s likely next secretary of state, a Trump-endorsed Republican who has falsely called the 2020 election fraudulent, is drawing concerns from many of his fellow GOP lawmakers. Now those legislators are aiming to draft a bill to remove the secretary of state’s ability to oversee elections. State Rep. Chuck Gray is the Republican nominee. He does not have a general election opponent. Though state officials maintain Wyoming elections are secure, Gray campaigned on concerns he has about election integrity.

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