September 2, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 2, 2022
Document Reveals Identity of Donors Who Secretly Funded Nikki Haley’s Political Nonprofit
Yahoo News – Alex Isenstadt (Politico) | Published: 8/26/2022
Many of the Republican Party’s biggest donors are among those who funneled anonymous contributions to former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s nonprofit as she lays the groundwork for a prospective 2024 presidential bid, according to previously unreported tax documents. Like other nonprofits, Stand For America files an annual tax return with the IRS. While the agency and the group must make those filings available to the public, including the amounts of contributions, such nonprofits do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. The group Documented obtained an unredacted copy of Stand For America’s 2019 filings.
Experts Say a Trump-Backed Charity Is Pushing the Boundaries of Tax Law
National Public Radio – Tom Dreisbach | Published: 8/31/2022
Many figures connected to the failed plot to overturn the 2020 election have coalesced around an increasingly influential nonprofit – the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI). A review of records and leaked audio suggests CPI may be risking legal trouble over its tax-exempt status. Experts said the group appears to be pushing the boundaries of the law by entwining itself with explicitly Republican and pro-Donald Trump political organizations. As an IRS-recognized charity, CPI is exempt from certain taxes. That also gives donors the benefit of deducting their contributions at tax time. But those benefits come with some strings attached.
Fox News Stars Questioned by Election Tech Company in Defamation Case
MSN – Rachel Weiner and Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2022
Some Fox News hosts are being compelled to answer questions about their coverage of the 2020 presidential election as a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems claims its reputation was ruined by the network’s airing of baseless allegations picks up steam. Lawyers for Dominion questioned Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson, while Sean Hannity and former host Lou Dobbs are scheduled for depositions. They are among the on-air personalities that Dominion says defamed it either by falsely claiming the company conspired to rig the election against Donald Trump or by repeatedly hosting guests who made such claims.
Garland Bans Campaign Activity by Justice Dept. Political Appointees
MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2022
Justice Department political appointees cannot participate in campaign-related activities in any capacity, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, describing the change as necessary “to maintain public trust and ensure that politics … does not compromise or affect the integrity of our work.” The new policy underscores the political scrutiny Garland is facing before the midterm elections, as his agency investigates former president Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office and the potential involvement of Trump and other GOP politicians in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Justice Dept. Says Trump Team May Have Hidden, Moved Classified Papers
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2022
Former President Trump and his advisers repeatedly failed to turn over highly classified government documents even after receiving a subpoena and pledging a “diligent search” had been conducted, leading to an FBI raid on his Florida home that found more than 100 additional classified items, according to a court filing. The filing traces government officials’ repeated efforts to recover national security papers from Trump’s residence, centered on a storage room where prosecutors came to suspect that “government records were likely concealed and removed … and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”
They Were Some of the Last Journalists at Their Papers. Then Came the Layoffs.
MSN – Elahe Izadi (Washington Post) | Published: 8/28/2022
Newspaper companies have been struggling to find their financial footing with the decline of print advertising. A recent study predicted one-third of American newspapers that existed roughly two decades ago will go extinct by 2025. Another study found some 40,000 newspaper newsroom jobs vanished between 2008 and 2020. Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country with more than 200 daily newspapers and its flagship publication USA Today, has already been shedding jobs.
Trump’s Lawyers May Become Witnesses or Targets in Documents Investigation
Yahoo News – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 8/31/2022
Two lawyers for former President Trump are likely to become witnesses or targets in the investigation into how he hoarded documents marked as classified at his Florida estate and secretly held onto some even after the lawyers claimed all sensitive materials had been returned, legal specialists said. Christina Bobb and M. Evan Corcoran handled Trump’s interactions with the government over a subpoena seeking additional material marked as classified. In a court filing, the Justice Department suggested people in Trump’s circle concealed documents in defiance of that subpoena, putting a spotlight on the lawyers’ actions.
Watchdog Probing Massachusetts US Attorney’s Fundraiser Trip
Yahoo News – Alanna Durkin Richer and Farnoush Amiri (Associated Press) | Published: 8/31/2022
A watchdog agency is investigating whether Massachusetts’ top federal prosecutor violated a law that limits political activity by government workers for attending a political fundraiser that featured First Lady Jill Biden. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said it has opened an investigation into a potential violation Hatch Act after U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton raised concerns over U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins’ attendance at a July Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Andover, Massachusetts.
When an Election Denier Becomes a Chief Election Official
Yahoo News – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 8/29/2022
Many of the election deniers running for secretary of state this year have spent their time talking about something they cannot do: “decertifying” the 2020 results. The bigger question, amid concerns about whether they would fairly administer the 2024 presidential election, is exactly what powers they would have if they win this year. They could refuse to certify accurate election results, a nearly unprecedented step that would set off litigation in state and federal court. But secretaries of states’ roles in elections stretch far beyond approving vote tallies and certifying results. Many of the candidates want to dramatically change the rules for future elections, too.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Alabama Ethics Commission Won’t Reconsider Decision on Exculpatory Information
MSN – Brian Lyman (Montgomery Advertiser) | Published: 8/25/2022
The Alabama Ethics Commission will not reconsider a decision that it does not have to disclose potentially exculpatory information to targets of investigations. The state attorney general’s office asked the commission to reconsider the decision in July. Under state law, the ethics panel investigates complaints against public officials. It functions as a kind of grand jury. It does not prosecute individuals for ethics violations. If the commission finds probable cause that ethics violations took place, it refers the case to the attorney general’s office or a district attorney for possible prosecution.
Alaska – Democrat Mary Peltola Wins Special Election in Alaska, Defeating Palin
MSN – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 8/31/2022
Democrat Mary Peltola has won a special election for the U.S. House in Alaska, defeating Sarah Palin and becoming the first Alaska Native to win a seat in Congress as well as the first woman to clinch the state’s at-large district. Peltola’s win flips a seat that had long been in Republican hands. She will serve the remainder of a term left open by the sudden death of U.S. Rep. Don Young. For the moment, it helps Democrats expand their current narrow House majority and gives the party a better chance of winning the seat in the fall, according to at least one nonpartisan elections analyst.
Arizona – Arizona Supreme Court Says Voters Can Decide Ballot Measures in November
KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 8/24/2022
Arizonans will be able to vote in November on two controversial ballot measures even though petition circulators did not comply with the law. In separate orders, the state Supreme Court said those who gather signatures for money are required to register for each petition campaign for which they work. Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said that did not happen in either the initiative to require disclosure of “dark money” in politics or another to cap medical debt payments. But Brutinel noted the office provided no procedure for those already registered to circulate other petitions to submit new registrations. The court agreed the signatures gathered by those who did not register anew should count.
California – A Sacramento School Trustee Walked Out of a Hotel with a Vase. Now She’s Reprimanded by Board
MSN – Jason Pohl and Sawsan Morrar (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 8/30/2022
A Sacramento school board member was reprimanded by her colleagues and ordered to undergo ethics training after a hotel employee accused her of trying to steal a red vase from the hotel lobby. Trustee Ericka Harden was filmed on security cameras at Embassy Suites, where she was attending a district-funded education leadership conference. On the video that hotel management sent the school district, Harden is seen walking out of the hotel with the vase. “This is to inform you of the altercation that has been encountered with your employee,” a hotel worker emailed the district. “The vase was returned as I did have to pull it out of her hands.”
California – California Lawmakers Reject Bill to Allow Their Staff to Unionize at the State Capitol
Yahoo News – Taryn Luna (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/31/2022
For the fourth time in five years, the California Legislature rejected a bill to allow its staff to unionize, parting with other West Coast states that have approved similar legislation to try to improve workplace conditions and offset power imbalances between politicians and their legislative staff. For decades, legislative employees have not received the same right to unionize as other private and public sector workers despite the Democratic Legislature’s close ties with unions at the Capitol.
California – ‘Close to the Line:’ California’s top campaign finance watchdog wants a deeper look at donor network
CalMatters – Alexei Koseff and Ben Christopher | Published: 8/26/2022
The Fair Political Practices Commission will consider new regulations more clearly defining coordination among affiliated campaign committees after the agency rejected a complaint against Govern For California. The complaint characterized the group’s network of independent committees as a “corporate structure that facilitates money laundering and vastly exceeds the contribution limits to candidates.” An investigation showed committees affiliated with Govern For California have come to play a prominent role in campaigns by making direct donations. Most of the funding to the chapters comes from the same group of 20 donors.
California – Inside a ‘Tale of Greed’ in San Francisco: Bribery scandal leads to 7-year prison sentence
Yahoo News – Gregory Yee (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/26/2022
Federal prosecutors called it “a tale of greed as old as time” – a powerful San Francisco official at the heart of a web of kickbacks, bribery, and fraud that stretched across more than a decade. Mohammed Nuru, a former public works director, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for his role in a public corruption scheme that has ensnared at least a dozen San Francisco officials and business figures, eroded trust in City Hall, and led to an ongoing FBI investigation.
California – L.A. Council Fails to Pick a Replacement for Ridley-Thomas, Exposing a Divide at City Hall
Yahoo News – David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 8/30/2022
Ten months after Los Angeles City Councilperson Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal corruption charges, the council remains at odds over what should happen to his district – who should represent it and how that person should be selected. Heather Hutt has been the district’s caretaker since July, when a judge sidelined the council’s previous interim pick, former Councilperson Herb Wesson. Councilperson Monica Rodriguez, who opposed a vote on Hutt, said the council moved too swiftly last time it tried to fill the seat, selecting Wesson only to have two judges conclude he is ineligible because of term limits.
Delaware – Judge Upholds Two of Delaware Auditor’s Three Convictions
MSN – Randall Chase (Associated Press) | Published: 8/30/2022
A judge upheld two convictions against Delaware’s auditor for official misconduct and conflict-of-interest but tossed a jury’s third misdemeanor conviction for improperly structuring contract payments to a consulting firm. In issuing his decision, Superior Court Judge William Carpenter Jr. rejected Kathy McGuiness’ request for a new trial. McGuiness, who as auditor is responsible for rooting out government fraud, waste, and abuse, is the first statewide elected official in Delaware to be convicted on criminal charges while in office. She has maintained her innocence and is seeking re-election.
Florida – DeSantis Election Investigation Chief Told Local Officials They Face ‘No Fault’ for Felons Voting
MSN – Matt Dixon (Politico) | Published: 8/29/2022
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office tried to blame local election supervisors for mistakes that could have allowed 20 people convicted of felonies to illegally vote. But the state’s election investigations chief previously absolved those local officials of any wrongdoing, according to documents. Pete Antonacci, who runs DeSantis’ elections investigation office, sent a letter on August 18 to the state’s elections supervisors saying they did nothing wrong when individuals convicted of murder and sex offenses voted in the 2020 election cycle.
Florida – Miami-Dade Commissioner Martinez Surrenders at Jail as Warrant Details Corruption Probe
MSN – David Ovalle and Douglas Hanks (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/30/2022
Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez surrendered to face criminal charges, as an arrest warrant reveals he is being accused of accepting $15,000 in exchange for sponsoring a bill five years ago to help a shopping plaza that had been repeatedly hit with fines for code violations. The legislation ultimately never passed and did not wind up being considered by the county commission. But under Florida’s unlawful compensation law, prosecutors do not need to show the public official’s “exercise of influence” for illegal pay was actually “accomplished,” only that it was attempted.
Florida – ‘Our Plan Might Have Paid Off’: How FPL dollars secretly funded a spoiler vs. Levine Cava
MSN – Nicholas Nehamas, Douglas Hanks, Sarah Blaskey, and Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 8/25/2022
Jeff Pitts’ political consulting firm was a conduit for millions of dollars secretly spent by Florida Power & Light (FPL) on political races since 2018, records show. In one case, the plan was to use Jonathan Burke as a spoiler candidate to drain votes from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Levine Cava, who had clashed with FPL over a nuclear power plant and force her into a runoff against her main opponent, Republican Gus Barreiro, a leaked text message suggests. Money from FPL covered Burke’s $60,000 salary and paid the rent on a $2,300-per-month home in Miami-Dade’s District 8, according to records.
Florida – Seminole GOP Chair’s Trial in ‘Ghost’ Candidate Case Starts Today
MSN – Annie Martin (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 8/29/2022
Seminole County Republican Party Chairperson Ben Paris is on trial, accused of contributing in his cousin’s name to independent “ghost” candidate Jestine Iannotti’s campaign in 2020. Paris is facing a misdemeanor charge in the scheme, which apparently was an attempt to aid Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, who was Paris’s boss at the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce at the time of the race. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of his former employee’s actions.
Georgia – Judge Delays Gov. Kemp’s Testimony in Ga. Probe Until After November Election
MSN – Amy Wang and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 8/29/2022
The judge presiding over the Georgia grand jury investigation into possible election interference by Donald Trump and his allies denied a motion from Gov. Brian Kemp to quash a subpoena requiring him to testify. But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney delayed Kemp’s appearance before the grand jury until “some date soon after” Election Day in November. Kemp, who is running for reelection against Stacey Abrams, has alleged the investigation is politically motivated.
Hawaii – Damning Report Unlikely to Affect Honolulu Ethics Director’s Job
Honolulu Civil Beat – Christina Jedra | Published: 8/26/2022
When Jan Yamane was hired by the Honolulu Ethics Commission in 2016, she was leaving the state auditor’s office where employees accused her of operating a hostile work environment that was plagued by favoritism, low morale, and harassment. The state attorney general’s office fought for years to keep the details secret. It only became public recently after a years-long legal fight. Yamane has now spent six years heading the city’s watchdog agency which, among other things, handles complaints about misconduct that may be similar in nature to what Yamane was accused of doing.
Idaho – Former Idaho Lawmaker Sentenced to 20 Years’ Prison for Rape
Yahoo News – Rebecca Boone (Associated Press) | Published: 8/31/2022
A former Idaho lawmaker convicted of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the crime. Aaron von Ehlinger must serve at least eight years before he will be eligible for parole. Von Ehlinger was convicted of felony rape in April, roughly a year after he resigned from his House seat after an ethics committee recommended that he be banned from the statehouse. Von Ehlinger’s supporters publicized the intern’s name, photo, and personal details about her life after she reported the rape, and repeatedly harassed her.
Illinois – DeVore Loan Ends Contribution Caps in Illinois AG Race
Patabook.com – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/1/2022
Illinois attorney general nominee Thomas DeVore loaned his campaign $250,001, a move that opens the door to unlimited contributions in the race with incumbent Kwame Raoul. Under state law, contribution limits are lifted when a candidate for statewide office donates more than $250,000 to his campaign. Until then, the limits range from $6,000 for individuals to $239,900 for political party contributions to candidates statewide.
Illinois – Pritzker’s Personal Fortune Intersects with State Contracts
Better Government Association – David Jackson, Grace Golembiewski, and Chuck Neubauer | Published: 8/30/2022
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s vast investment portfolio includes interests in a dozen for-profit companies that earned more than $20 billion in state business since he took office in 2019, a Better Government Association investigation found. In some cases, state dollars flowed to companies registered to lobby Pritzker, who as the state’s chief executive held enormous sway over their contracts. The intersection between Pritzker’s personal bottom line and his role as governor comes despite his promise to divest his personal fortune of investments in state contractors and to transfer his multibillion-dollar portfolio into what he called a “blind trust.”
Indiana – Study: Indiana ranks last in campaign finance laws
Journal Gazette – Brett Stover | Published: 8/28/2022
Indiana has the least restrictive campaign finance laws in the country, a new study shows. The Coalition for Integrity, which that focuses on corruption and transparency, released its first-ever State Campaign Finance Index this summer. The index examines laws from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including regulations on campaign coordination and limits on expenditures. The report highlighted the state’s lack of a cap on individual contributions. Conservative lawyer Jim Bopp Jr. sees that lack of individual contribution regulation as one of the best parts of Indiana’s campaign finance laws.
Kentucky – Citing Conflict, Scott County Residents Sue to Remove Judge Candidate from Ballot
MSN – Taylor Six (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 8/29/2022
Two Scott County residents filed a civil lawsuit to remove Rob Johnson from the ballot as 14th Circuit judicial candidate. Johnson is married to 14th Judicial Circuit Commonwealth Attorney Sharon Mus. Plaintiffs say this creates a situation where Johnson could not perform the majority of the constitutional duties of the position for which he seeks election unless he violates the Judicial Canons of Ethics.
Maryland – Md. Watchdog: Reports from Pr. George’s school board ethics panel are unreliable
MSN – Nicole Asbury (Washington Post) | Published: 8/27/2022
An ethics report that targeted Prince George’s County school board members was unreliable, included “factually inaccurate” information, and omitted key exonerating statements from witnesses, Maryland’s education watchdog said. The error-riddled reports completed last year by a county school board ethics advisory panel and leaked to some community members, accused seven school board members of a variety of offenses, including steering contracts, doing political favors, and engaging in a quid pro quo with a labor union.
Michigan – Michigan Elections Panel Deadlocks, Leaving Abortion Rights Proposal Off Ballot
Yahoo News – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 9/1/2022
Michigan’s elections panel deadlocked along partisan lines on certifying an abortion rights measure for this fall’s ballot that proposed adding an explicit right to seek the procedure in the state. The impasse leaves the measure off the ballot. But the Reproductive Freedom for All plans to file an appeal asking the Michigan Supreme Court to put the proposed constitutional amendment before voters as election officials prepare to send out ballots next month. The Board of Canvassers’ two Republican members said organizers circulated a petition to collect voter signatures that was riddled with errors the board could not approve.
Michigan – Romulus Ex-Mayor Burcroff Pleads Guilty in Federal Corruption Case
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 8/25/2022
Former Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff pleaded guilty to wire fraud after being accused of spending more than $15,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. Federal prosecutors alleged he defrauded campaign donors who thought the money would be spent on re-election expenses. Instead, prosecutors say he spent the money on his daughter’s wedding, a Florida vacation, flowers, a $4,500 alcohol bill, and dues and expenses at the Belleville Yacht Club.
Michigan – Who Controls Where and When You See Political Ads? It’s Complicated.
MLive.com – Jordyn Hermani | Published: 9/1/2022
Online outrage was sparked after a journalist noticed a 30-second advertisement, which alleges Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon believes there should be a total ban on abortion even in the instances of rape or incest, interrupted a children’s cartoon being streamed on Hulu. The streaming service only began running political ads this year after backlash when it initially refused to run ads from Democratic groups. Political scientist Ken Miller said the ad may not have been intended to land in a children’s show but could have a similar effect as if it had been placed during the evening news.
New Jersey – Legislative Resolutions Raise the Question: What’s the point?
New Jersey Monitor – Dana DiFilippo | Published: 8/30/2022
Resolutions are a popular way for state lawmakers to butter up constituents, grab headlines, or publicize their positions on federal issues or other matters over which they wield little control. So far this legislative session, resolutions represent about 10 person of all legislation in the New Jersey General Assembly. But only 22 resolutions, less than three percent of those introduced, have passed this year. John Froonjian of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, said some resolutions pushed by lawmakers “are not exactly heavyweight public policy,” and he thinks the public can rightly question, “What’s the point?”
New York – Skirting Ethics Order, Hochul Seeks Donations from Cuomo Appointees
archive.today – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 8/30/2022
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has been taking money from appointees of the governor, despite an executive order designed to prevent it. In her first year in office, Hochul has accepted more than $400,000 from appointees on boards across the state as well as the appointees’ spouses, a New York Times analysis found. Hochul’s campaign said it was appropriate to accept the contributions because they came from people appointed by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. The argument underscored a loophole in the ethics order that would seem to allow one governor to accept money from another governor’s board and commission appointees.
Pennsylvania – Pa.’s Unreliable Lobbyist Disclosure Website Is Getting a User-Friendly Upgrade
Spotlight PA – Kate Huangpu | Published: 8/29/2022
An initiative to improve the online system in Pennsylvania that lobbyists use to disclose which organizations have hired them and how they spend money got a boost in this year’s state budget. A line item listed only as “Lobbying Disclosure” under the Department of State’s general appropriations is funded at $714,000 for the fiscal year that started in July, a 150 percent increase over the previous year. A Department of State spokesperson said the money will fund an IT upgrade to a system that has been criticized as lagging, unintuitive, and often down.
South Dakota – ‘Nobody Thought This Would Be a Governor’: Noem complaint leads to key chapter in short life of ethics board
Fargo Forum – Jason Hayward | Published: 8/30/2022
A recent meeting of the Government Accountability Board, where it moved on two complaints against South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, was the latest in a series of unprecedented events for the board, which was created in response to a series of scandals and an initiated measure. This is the first set of complaints the board has not simply dismissed, meaning the details of the process for a possible contested case must be figured out on the fly. The confidentiality inherent to the board’s process was undermined by Jason Ravnsborg, the former attorney general who brought the complaints public during a feud with Noem over her calling for his impeachment.
Virginia – Judge Throws Out Obscenity Case Attempting to Restrict Sales of Books in Virginia Beach
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 8/30/2022
A judge in Virginia dismissed a lawsuit that sought to declare two books as obscene for children and to restrict their distribution to minors, including by booksellers and libraries. The books in question were “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “A Court of Mist and Fury.” State Del. Tim Anderson filed the suit on behalf of former GOP congressional candidate Tommy Altman. They characterized it as part of a broader effort to strengthen parental control over what children read, while critics denounced it as old-fashioned censorship. The hearing focused less on the merits of the books or First Amendment issues and more on flaws with Virginia’s obscenity law.
Washington DC – D.C. Office Of Campaign Finance Will Investigate Ward 3 Poll Conducted by Councilmember Elissa Silverman
DCist – Callan Tansill-Suddath | Published: 8/26/2022
The Office of Campaign Finance confirmed it will investigate a complaint against District of Columbia Councilperson Elissa Silverman. The complaint says Silverman conducted a telephone poll of residents in Ward 3 ahead of the June 21 primary election and discussed the results with her preferred candidate in the race. That amounted to improper coordination between campaigns and an in-kind campaign contribution that should have been reported, according to the complaint.
Wisconsin – Former Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis Has Seen Sentenced to 30 Days in Custody, 3 Years’ Probation
Yahoo News – Alison Dirr (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 8/25/2022
Former Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis was sentenced to 30 days in custody as a condition of three years’ probation following her conviction on two felonies related to her conduct in office. Lewis was removed from office after pleading guilty to a count of misconduct in public office and no contest to a count of intentionally accepting an illegal campaign finance disbursement. Prosecutors said she took at least $21,666 in campaign funds and false travel reimbursements from the city between 2016 and 2020.
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