News You Can Use Digest - September 22, 2023 - State and Federal Communications

September 22, 2023  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 22, 2023


Lobbyists Flirt with AI While Remaining Cautious of Its Promises

Bloomberg Government – Kate Ackley | Published: 9/8/2023

Lobbyists are scrambling to put their imprint on federal oversight of artificial intelligence (AI) and grappling with its influence on their own profession even as they predict robot-lobbyists will likely remain in the realm of science fiction. Some lobbyists say they are willing to embrace AI. They have begun to experiment with it to ease tedious and time-consuming tasks, such as legislative analysis, background research, and drafting client memos. Others, eyeing it with trepidation, say they are holding off to see how it evolves.

The Senate Dress Code Gets a Casual Overhaul

DNyuz – Robert Jimison (New York Times) | Published: 9/19/2023

In the tradition-bound halls of the U.S. Senate, customs die hard and rules can be next to impossible to change. But for the first time in centuries, lawmakers are no longer expected to suit up to conduct business on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Charles Schumer established a new dress code allowing members to take a more business-casual approach to their workwear.

Revolving Door Redux: The DEA’s recently departed No. 2 returns to a Big Pharma consulting firm

MSN – Joshua Goodman and Jim Mustian (Associated Press) | Published: 9/20/2023

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) recently departed second-in-command returned for a new stint with the consulting firm where he previously advised Purdue Pharma and a drug distributor fighting sanctions over suspicious painkiller shipments. Louis Milione retired from the DEA a second time this summer amid reporting on potential conflicts caused by his prior consulting for the pharmaceutical industry. Less than three months later, Milione again landed a plum job at Guidepost Solutions, a firm hired by some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating when he returned to the DEA in 2021.

Democrats Rap FEC Gridlock That Republicans Say Is a Feature

MSN – Daniela Altimari (Roll Call) | Published: 9/20/2023

A recent hearing by the House Oversight Committee marked the first time in 12 years that members of the FEC have come before a congressional oversight panel. Democrats on the committee want changes to the makeup of the commission. The six-member panel is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, a breakdown that critics say has led to partisan gridlock and hampered the FEC’s ability to enforce the rules. The are also calls to improve transparency and modernize technology.

Did Sen. Bob Menendez and Wife Improperly Take Gold Bars from Corrupt Bank Exec?

MSN – Jonathan Dienst and Courtney Copenhagen (WNBC) | Published: 9/20/2023

Federal prosecutors are looking into whether an admitted felon helped arrange to give gold bars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez or his wife in exchange for help. Investigators want to know if Menendez offered to contact the Justice Department to try to help that man who was accused of banking crimes. Those questions are now before a federal grand jury that is considering whether to hand up corruption charges against Menendez.

Lawmakers Are Spending Way More to Keep Themselves Safe. Is It Enough?

MSN – Greg Morton, Marianna Sotomayor, and Camila DeChalus (Washington Post) | Published: 9/18/2023

Candidates running for U.S. House and Senate offices increased campaign spending on security by more than 500 percent between the 2020 election and the 2022 midterms, a measure of the extraordinary rise in threats against elected officials in recent years and the country’s increasingly volatile political climate.  The steep increases came as changes in federal campaign finance rules made it easier to spend campaign dollars on security, a recognition of the nation’s changing threat outlook for elected officials. Lawmakers say more has to be done to help protect themselves and their staff from a dramatic rise in daily threats.

Red States Quit Nation’s Oldest Library Group Amid Culture War Over Books

MSN – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 9/15/2023

The American Library Association is facing a partisan firefight unlike anything in its almost 150-year history. The once-uncontroversial organization, which says it is the world’s largest and oldest library association and which provides funding, training, and tools to most of the country’s 123,000 libraries, has become entangled in the education culture wars – the raging debates over what and how to teach about race, sex, and gender.

Unapologetic Ex-Ambassador Avoids Prison in Illicit Lobbying Case

MSN – Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) | Published: 9/16/2023

Richard Olson Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $93,350 fine for violating federal lobbying and ethics laws in a case that exposed a secret history of romantic liaisons and lavish gifts during his 34-year career as a diplomat. Olson, who pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanors related to his consulting work in the Middle East, could have received up to six months behind bars under federal sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors in D.C. Election Case Are Seeking a Partial Gag Order for Trump

NPR – Associated Press | Published: 9/15/2023

Federal prosecutors are seeking an order that would prevent Donald Trump from making “inflammatory” and “intimidating” comments about witnesses, lawyers, and other people involved in the criminal case charging the former president with scheming to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Special counsel Jack Smith’s team said in a motion that such a “narrow, well-defined” order was necessary to preserve the integrity of the case and to avoid prejudicing potential jurors.

Alito Pauses Order Banning Biden Officials from Contacting Tech Platforms

Politico – Josh Gerstein and Rebecca Kern | Published: 9/14/2023

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito temporarily paused a lower-court order limiting Biden administration officials from contacting social media firms. Alito’s action followed an emergency filing from the Justice Department that asked the court to block an earlier injunction that would make it difficult for officials at the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI to respond to online posts that pose a danger to public health or safety. The Justice Department claims allowing the lower court ruling to stay in effect would “impose grave and irreparable harms on the government and the public.”

From the States and Municipalities

Canada – Changes to Lobbying Rules Could Spell End to 50 Years of Free Trips to Israel for Canadian MPs, Senators

Globe and Mail – Steven Chase | Published: 9/17/2023

Changes to lobbying rules in Canada could spell an end to 50 years of free trips to Israel for Members of Parliament and senators. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which funds the trips, says it is the group hardest hit by revisions to a code governing those who try to influence public officials. New rules for the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct went into effect on July 1 that restrict registered lobbyists in Ottawa from lobbying politicians who accept free trips from them.

Arizona – Arizona Senator Plans Probe into Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Payments to Campaign Security Guard

MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 9/19/2023

State Sen. T.J. Shope says he will investigate how Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs was able to hire a private security guard while she was the state’s top election official and a gubernatorial candidate last year without telling the public who paid the bill. The Arizona Republic reported that Hobbs’ campaign did not disclose payments to the individual on campaign finance reports. Shope suggested the cost of security could have exposed a loophole or violated state campaign finance laws that limit donation amounts and restrictions on funding from certain sources.

Arizona – Arizona Gov. Hobbs Leans on Lobbyists in New Administration: How does she prevent conflicts?

Yahoo News – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 9/18/2023

Aides to Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs include nine former lobbyists, whose work histories could raise concerns about conflicts-of-interest. Governors in recent years have faced scrutiny over their connections to lobbyists and the challenge of avoiding ethical lapses. Former Gov. Doug Ducey faced criticism that he and his team played favorites with business, often at taxpayer expense. Hobbs’ administration has been criticized for being opaque since its earliest days, when her campaign staff created a “dark money” fundraising group to pay for the inauguration.

Arkansas – Arkansas Governor Tried to Keep More Records Private. The Pushback Was Swift.

DNyuz – Rick Rojas (New York Times) | Published: 9/14/2023

When Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders summoned Arkansas lawmakers to Little Rock for a special legislative session to cut taxes and ban the state from mandating Covid-19 vaccinations, she added one more request: overhaul the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Sanders called for changes that included limiting the release of records related to policymaking and discussions of legal strategy. But the pushback was swift, swelling beyond organizations representing news organizations and government transparency advocates to include conservatives and some of the governor’s own supporters.

Arkansas – Arkansas Launches New, ‘More Friendly’ Campaign Finance Disclosure Filing Portal

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Neal Earley | Published: 9/20/2023

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office launched a new campaign finance disclosure and filing portal, billing it as a more user-friendly alternative. The office says the new reporting system will be easier to use for those searching its online campaign finance database and for candidates filing their reports.

California – Santa Clara Councilmembers File Ethics Complaint Against Group They Say Has Ties to Mayor Lisa Gillmor

East Bay Times – Grace Hase (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 9/18/2023

Three members of the Santa Clara City Council filed several ethics complaints against Stand Up For Santa Clara, a self-proclaimed “grass-roots watchdog organization” they claim is connected to Mayor Lisa Gillmor. Vice Mayor Kevin Park and council members Anthony Becker and Suds Jain filed complaints with the city and the California Fair Political Practices Commission claiming the group is a “political operation” and has failed to be transparent with its political spending or advertisements. The trio also filed a complaint with the IRS, questioning its non-profit status.

California – Your Guide to the LA Government Reforms on the Table after the City Hall Leaked Tape Scandal

LAist – Brianna Lee and Frank Stoltze | Published: 9/15/2023

Large-scale changes are rare at Los Angeles City Hall. But now there is more momentum than there has been in decades for three major reforms to how the city is governed. The proposals are the result of calls for reform after a secret recording was released last year that captured three city council members and a labor official using racist, homophobic, and other derogatory language while discussing ways to amass power in the city’s redistricting process.

California – Will Mickey Mouse Continue to Cast a Big Shadow Over Anaheim’s Election Campaigns?

Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada and Spencer Custodio | Published: 9/19/2023

In Anaheim, Disney is the political kingmaker – and somewhat of a policymaker. Yet residents rarely see the company’s influence discussed in public by city leaders. A recent report on corruption laid out a web of influence by Disney and other resort interests on City Hall policy making. In sworn affidavits, FBI agents also detailed a city largely controlled by Disneyland resort interests. This fall, council members are taking up a host of items designed to curb special interest influence.

California – How California Lobbyists Jam the Capitol for ‘High-Pressure’ Meetings to Sway Lawmaker Votes

Yahoo News – Lindsey Holden (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 9/14/2023

During the final days of the legislative session in California, lobbyists pack the Capitol rotunda in hopes of snagging some last-minute face time with Assembly members and senators as they cast their final votes for the year. Lobbyists began using the rotunda last year, once in-person activity at the Capitol resumed. Lobbyists are not allowed on the Assembly and Senate floors. The Assembly does not permit lobbyists to text members on the floor, although they can do so in the Senate.

Florida – Miami Commissioner Díaz de la Portilla Arrested on Bribery, Money Laundering Charges

MSN – Joey Flechas, Tess Riski, Sarah Blaskey, Jay Weaver, Charles Rabin, and Raisa Habersham (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/14/2023

Miami City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla and William Riley Jr., an attorney and lobbyist, were arrested on corruption charges. They stand accused of laundering campaign money, failing to report political donations, and spending political funds on personal expenses. Díaz de la Portilla and Riley are accused of conspiring to launder $245,000 in political contributions in exchange for the commissioner’s support on a plan to build a sports complex in Miami.

Florida – State Arrests Former CFO of Disgraced Domestic Violence Coalition. More Arrests Expected.

MSN – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/20/2023

After a three-year investigation, state officials arrested Patricia Duarte, the former chief financial officer of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, for her role in padding the books at the defunct taxpayer-funded organization to compensate herself and Tiffany Carr, the former chief executive officer. Carr was paid $7.5 million in taxpayer funds over three years. A series of stories in The Miami Herald revealed how Carr used her tight control of the coalition to inflate her compensation while domestic violence victims across the state were denied services.

Florida – DeSantis Sits on Florida Ethics Cases as He Vows to ‘Break the Swamp’

Orlando Sentinel – Skyler Swisher | Published: 9/19/2023

As Gov. Ron DeSantis vows to clean up Washington if elected president, dozens of ethics orders seeking to punish the misdeeds of Florida politicians have been languishing on his desk in Tallahassee. The governor has not signed an ethics order since January 28, 2021. Until he takes action, politicians and public employees will not have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, even if they settled their ethics cases and admitted wrongdoing.

Hawaii – This Hawaii Super PAC Says It’s Raising Money for Wildfire Victims – And Political Candidates Too

Honolulu Civil Beat – Allan Kew | Published: 9/18/2023

A progressive political organization is taking advantage of the Maui wildfires to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars that may go to support candidates instead of direct help for victims of the August fires. Our Hawaii Action has raised at least $684,000 through the newly created Maui Community Power Recovery Fund. The group’s fundraising website starts with a familiar pitch, asking donors to “Support Maui Fires: Relief, Recovery and Rebuilding.” The page later notes that money will go to political organizing and campaign operations.

Illinois – Chicago Inspector General’s Office Seizes Computers from City Treasurer’s Office

MSN – Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/19/2023

Investigators with the Chicago inspector general’s office seized computers from the treasurer’s City Hall offices as part of an investigation into allegations of misconduct against Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin. The move comes after the release late last month of a 2020 letter that laid out a series of accusations by two aides Conyears-Ervin had fired who said the treasurer misused taxpayer resources and abused the powers of her office.

Indiana – Egg Farmer John Rust Files Lawsuit to Face U.S. Rep. Jim Banks in Indiana’s 2024 Senate Primary

Indiana Capital Chronicle – Casey Smith | Published: 9/20/2023

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Rust filed a lawsuit to get his name on the May 2024 primary ballot. He maintains that a current Indiana law blocking him from the ballot is unconstitutional. Because Rust does not qualify to run as a Republican based only on his primary voting history, he needs additional approval from his county party chairperson. Indiana Republican Party officials have said Jackson County Republican Party Chairperson Amanda Lowery had indicated she would not approve his candidacy.

Michigan – Michigan Marijuana Board Chair Bribed with Sex Worker, Prosecutors Say

Bridge Michigan – Lauren Gibbons | Published: 9/14/2023

Lobbyists offered a sex worker to Rick Johnson, Michigan’s former marijuana board chairperson and a onetime House speaker, as part of a bribe scheme to expedite approval of medical marijuana business licenses, prosecutors revealed. Using the code name “Batman” in reference to Johnson in messages, lobbyists provided the services of the sex worker, tickets to sporting events, and direct cash payments laundered through multiple limited liability companies in return for an edge during the application process, prosecutors said in a sentencing document.

Nevada – Commissioners Adopt ‘Watered-Down’ Lobbyist Policy

This Is Reno – Kristin Hackbarth | Published: 9/19/2023

Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt an ordinance requiring paid lobbyists to identify themselves when providing public comment at commission meetings. Commissioners had directed county staff to draft an ordinance to regulate lobbyists interacting with county policymakers. The policy was modeled after the city of Reno’s. The final ordinance is a stripped-down version of what was presented to commissioners in August, and it removes the requirement for lobbyists to register with the county.

New Jersey – New Jersey Seeks Dismissal of Election Watchdog’s Lawsuit Challenging Controversial Law

New Jersey Monitor – Dana DiFilippo | Published: 9/20/2023

The state Attorney General’s Office asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit New Jersey’s top election watchdog filed against Gov. Phil Murphy. Jeff Brindle accused the governor of orchestrating a legislative overhaul of the state’s campaign finance law last spring to oust him from his longtime job as executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

North Carolina – NC Lawmakers Could Have Full Discretion Over Public Records with New Budget Provision

MSN – Kyle Ingram and Dan Kane (Charlotte Observer) | Published: 9/20/2023

A provision in the draft state budget may give North Carolina lawmakers full discretion to determine which of their records are public, a move open government advocates said is a drastic reinterpretation of years of precedent in public records law. Legislators are already considered to be custodians of their own records, but current law only allows them to withhold records if they claim an exemption to the law, said Brooks Fuller, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition.

North Carolina – NC Speaker’s Campaign Has Paid His Law Firm Almost $70k for Rent, Watchdog Group Says

MSN – Travis Fain (WRAL) | Published: 9/18/2023

A watchdog group is calling on the State Board of Election to clarify North Carolina’s campaign finance rules and crack down on candidates who make money renting office space to their own campaign. The Campaign for Accountability flagged about $70,000 in payments that House Speaker Tim Moore’s campaign has paid on a building he owns, which also houses his law office.

Ohio – 3 Former Columbus Zoo Executives Indicted in $2.2M Corruption Scheme

ABC News – Associated Press | Published: 9/19/2023

Three former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium executives engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity that cost the facility more than $2.2 million, according to an indictment. Tom Stalf, who was the zoo’s president and chief executive officer; ex-Chief Financial Officer Gregory Bell, and Peter Fingerhut, its former marketing director “extorted, conspired, bribed and stole” while colluding with each other for over 10 years, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in announcing the 90-count indictment.

Ohio – Nearly 150 Now Say They Didn’t Agree to Use Their Names on Pro-Fracking Form Letters

MSN – Jake Zuckerman, Sean McDonnell, and Gretchen Cuda Kroen (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/16/2023

As a state board moves toward a decision on opening two state parks and two protected wildlife areas for fracking, its public comments are flush with nearly 150 letters under the names of people who say they did not authorize or send them. Those comments trace back to at least two different entities that wage advocacy and lobbying campaigns for the natural gas industry. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has vowed to investigate. The Consumer Energy Alliance has said it does not use names without permission and challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

Oregon – Portland Auditor Investigating Zenith Energy for Lobbying Violations

Street Roots – Jeremiah Hayden | Published: 9/15/2023

The Portland City Auditor’s Office is investigating Zenith Energy for potential violations of the city lobbying code. Confirmation of the investigation comes after it was reported that Zenith Energy and its public relations firm, Pac/West Communications, spent months courting city officials, their staff, and bureau staff to approve a land use permit in 2022.

Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Debuts Automatic Voter Registration, Joining 23 Other States and D.C.

MSN – Marisa Iati (Washington Post) | Published: 9/19/2023

Pennsylvania implemented automatic voter registration to ease the process of casting a ballot, joining 23 other states and the District of Columbia. Residents who are eligible to vote and who obtain or renew a driver’s license or identification card at the Department of Motor Vehicles now will be guided through the voter registration process by default. If they do not want to be added to the voter rolls, they have to actively opt out.

Pennsylvania – Democrats Again Secure One-Vote Pa. House Majority After Special Election Win

Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 9/19/2023

Democrats have again secured a one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House, prevailing in an Allegheny County special election the party was widely favored to win. Lindsay Powell’s win will end a two-month tie in the 203-member lower chamber that has existed since state Rep. Sara Innamorato resigned to focus on her run for Allegheny County executive.

Pennsylvania – A Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Crack Down on Harrisburg’s ‘Revolving Door’ of Lobbyists

Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 9/19/2023

A new bill aims to slow the speed of the “revolving door” between public service and private sector lobbying, a threshold that Pennsylvania lawmakers and workers often cross once they leave state government. Current state law bars such officials and employees from lobbying their previous workplaces for a year. The new bill backed by members of both major parties would extend that pause by another year.

Tennessee – A Lawsuit Over Controversial House Sign Rules Is Over. The First Amendment Debate Is Not.

MSN – Angele Latham (Tennessean) | Published: 9/15/2023

A lawsuit over the Tennessee House’s ban on signs the August special legislative session may be coming to a close. But the First Amendment issues surrounding when government can limit speech in the name of order and decorum are not likely going away. Speaker Cameron Sexton has hinted the House may again take up the issue when the Legislature returns in 2024, a move likely to spark renewed debate about the boundaries of free speech.

Texas – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Acquitted on All 16 Articles of Impeachment

MSN – Zach Despart (Texas Tribune) | Published: 9/17/2023

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted by the state Senate on 16 charges of bribery, unfitness for office, and abuse of office. He was immediately reinstated, ending a suspension that began in May with his impeachment by the House. The votes sealed the failure of a risky gambit by House Republicans, who began in secret in the spring to investigate, and then purge, a leader of their own party. The results came after sustained pressure on senators from grassroots groups, conservative activists, and the leader of the state Republican Party, who vowed retribution at the ballot box if Paxton was convicted.

Texas – ‘My Vote Was Rejected’: Trial underway in Texas over new voting law

Yahoo News – Edgar Sandoval (New York Times) | Published: 9/19/2023

A trial is underway in Texas over the state’s sweeping election overhaul. Since it went into effect, critics have raised concerns the law would impede voters with disabilities, elderly voters, and voters who do not speak English. The federal trial provides an unusual opportunity to hear directly from voters who wanted to cast a vote but were not able to do so. Lawyers representing the state countered that the new rules prevent potential voter fraud and that voters seem to be adapting better with every passing election.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin Republicans Vote to Fire Elections Director, Who May Not Leave the Job.

MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 9/14/2023

Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted to fire the state’s top nonpartisan elections official, whose allies responded by saying the lawmakers did not have the power to oust her. The Democratic governor’s administration plans to continue to pay Meagan Wolfe’s salary and make sure she maintains access to her office if she wants to continue as director of the state’s elections commission. The vote creates a dispute over who is in charge of overseeing elections in a state that is expected to play a critical role in next year’s presidential campaign and may have to redraw its legislative districts within months.

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