September 29, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 29, 2023
Billings Gazette – David Bauder (Associated Press) | Published: 9/21/2023
Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old Australian media magnate whose creation of Fox News made him a force in American politics, is stepping down as leader of both Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media holdings. His son, Lachlan, will become News Corp. chairperson and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp. Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and the nation’s politics, making Murdoch a hero to some and pariah to others. The 24-hour network converted the power and energy of political talk radio to television.
Business Insider – Brent Griffiths | Published: 9/21/2023
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert rents a Washington apartment from a top official for the right-wing advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, a key part of the conservative influence network originally funded by brothers Charles and David Koch. There are no ethics rules or laws that bar members of Congress from renting apartments from people affiliated with lobbying groups. But the arrangement is an indicator of how small Washington can be, and how closely entwined legislators can become with the people who are paid to influence them.
DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 9/25/2023
For decades, Republicans have outmaneuvered and outspent Democrats in state Legislatures, gerrymandering them into the minority in both red states and political battlegrounds. GOP lawmakers have used that advantage to pass countless conservative policies with a help along the way. Conservative think tanks and other policy groups drafted model legislation for Republican lawmakers to cut taxes, expand gun rights, and loosen environmental regulations. Now Democrats are trying to put themselves on even footing.
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/25/2023
Attorneys for former President Trump blasted federal prosecutors’ request for a narrow gag order that would bar him from attacking participants in the criminal case charging him with conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election, claiming he must be free to campaign for the Republican nomination in 2024. The response joins a battle that promises to be a recurring feature of Trump’s multiple state and federal criminal cases and that highlights challenges facing prosecutors and judges in the historic attempts to prosecute a former president and active candidate.
MSN – Naomi Nix, Cat Zakrzewski, and Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2023
Conservative politicians are accusing academics, universities, and government agencies of colluding with technology companies to censor right-wing views. Interviews with professors, government officials, physicians, nonprofits, and research funders describe an escalating campaign that has cast a pall over programs studying not just political falsehoods but also the quality of medical information online. Social media platforms have pulled back on moderating content even as evidence mounts that Russia and China have intensified covert influence campaigns.
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2023
The FBI’s former top spy hunter in New York, who had pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and launder funds for a Russian billionaire he once investigated, pleaded guilty in a separate case charging him with hiding secret cash payments while overseeing highly sensitive cases. Charles McGonigal admitted he concealed his receipt of payments and meetings with foreign officials to avoid questions about a conflict-of-interest between his private post-retirement business plans and his official duties as one of the FBI’s top leaders.
MSN – Mariana Afaro (Washington Post) | Published: 9/27/2023
The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution requiring male senators to wear a coat, tie, and slacks or other long pants on the chamber’s floor following days of upheaval sparked by Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s decision to stop enforcing the requirement of business attire. Before Schumer’s initial move, the Senate had followed an unwritten and unevenly enforced policy that encouraged men to wear suits and ties and women to cover their arms.
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2023
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and his wife Nadine were indicted on bribery charges, Justice Department officials announced, detailing what officials said was a corrupt scheme involving gold bars, stacks of cash, and using the senator’s powerful position to secretly benefit the Egyptian government. Allegations of a secretive campaign to aid the government in Cairo stand out not just because of Menendez’s singular power in the Senate to shape U.S. foreign policy as the chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee, but also because of the rebuttal he offered when asked about accusations of impropriety earlier this year.
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/27/2023
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Donald Trump’s demand that she recuse herself from his federal election obstruction case, saying attorneys for the former president had applied a “hypersensitive, cynical, and suspicious” reading of two of her statements in sentencing Capitol attack defendants to accuse her of bias. Trump’s defense can ask an appellate court to weigh in, but the standard for a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling is very high.
ProPublica – Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 9/22/2023
Some of the richest people in the country attended the 2018 donor summit of the Koch network, the political organization founded by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also attended. He has attended Koch donor events at least twice over the years. Thomas was brought in to speak, staffers said, in the hopes that such access would encourage donors to continue giving. That puts Thomas in the position of having served as a fundraising draw for a network that has brought cases before the Supreme Court. The justice never reported the flight to Palm Springs.
Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 9/21/2023
The Republican-led Legislatures of Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama find themselves backed against courtroom walls in similar circumstances, defending congressional maps that federal judges have said appear to discriminate against Black voters. Last year, the same judges said that, even before full trials were held, the same maps were so likely illegal that replacements should be used for the 2022 elections. But due to a once-obscure U.S. Supreme Court rule that outlaws election-law changes close to campaign season, the disputed maps were used anyway.
Yahoo News – John Fritze (USA Today) | Published: 9/25/2023
Americans were able to review financial disclosure reports for all nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, documents that revealed private jet flights, foreign travel, and even a bouquet of flowers that Oprah Winfrey had ordered for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. But those annual disclosures are far harder to find for hundreds of lower court judges that make up the bulk of the federal judiciary. At a time when the judicial branch is under heightened scrutiny over ethics, federal courts are struggling to honor a law intended to head off potential conflicts.
Yahoo News – Taylor Giorno (The Hill) | Published: 9/27/2023
Lobbying and government affairs shops are busy preparing for a possible shutdown of the federal government. Lobbyists cannot do much except keep clients informed about what to expect if the government does shut down as they navigate uncertainty around tax credits, infrastructure investments, and political stability. It is a “very uncertain time” for clients, said Ryan Carney, a government affairs advisor at K&L Gates. The firm set up a task force with professionals who have experience with government shutdowns to monitor developments.
Yahoo News – Ken Dilanian and Frank Thorp V (NBC News) | Published: 9/27/2023
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who is charged with secretly aiding the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes, singlehandedly blocked passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020 that would have strengthened the law regulating foreign influence and lobbying in Washington, D.C. The proposed Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act grew out of widespread concerns that the current law regulating foreign lobbying had seldom been enforced, and foreign influence campaigns had successfully infiltrated American politics.
From the States and Municipalities
Global News – Allison Jones (Canadian Press) | Published: 9/21/2023
Ontario’s integrity commissioner said there are “insufficient grounds” to conduct a full investigation into a “stag-and-doe” event for Premier Doug Ford’s daughter, though he noted an “interesting” finding about ticket sales for the gathering. New Democratic Party Leader Matt Stiles had asked J. David Wake to issue an opinion on the pre-wedding event for Ford’s daughter, which was attended by some land developers who had business in the province.
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2023
The U.S. Supreme Court refused Alabama’s request to hold 2024 elections under a new congressional map judged to be an unlawful attempt to diminish the power of the state’s Black voters. It was the second time in four months the court has sided with a three-judge panel that found Alabama’s Legislature probably violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to create a second congressional district where minority voters have a large enough share of the electorate to elect their candidate of choice.
MSN – Mike Cason (AL.com) | Published: 9/27/2023
The chairperson of the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee said he expects to propose changes to Alabama’s ethics law during the next legislative session. Rep. Matt Simpson is leading a series of meetings by the panel to examine issues identified by a study commission a few years ago and by Alabama’s appellate courts. Most of those are areas where the law is confusing, ambiguous, or unclear, Simpson said. One of the lingering issues is the precise definition and scope of the term principal, which refers to organizations and individuals that employ lobbyists.
KJZZ – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 9/22/2023
A new rule adopted by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission adds the requirement for political ads to disclose the three largest sources of funds that bought the commercial. The rule details exactly how big the disclosure must be. Commission Executive Director Tom Collins agreed it is not possible to put all the required disclosure, like the top three funders, into many social media posts. But the rule will mandate inclusion of a clickable link that would take the reader to a page where people could get the required information.
Los Angeles Daily News – Jason Henry (Pasadena Star News) | Published: 9/24/2023
Baldwin Park’s former city attorney assisted in a bribery and wire fraud scheme that funneled $70,000 in illicit payoffs to former Councilperson Ricardo Pacheco to secure his vote on a cannabis permit, according to federal authorities. The new allegations against Robert Tafoya became public following the grand jury indictment of Tafoya’s longtime friend and alleged co-conspirator, former Compton City Councilperson Isaac Galvin.
MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/27/2023
The Los Angeles City Council approved a nominee for a spot on the Ethics Commission after several weeks of public scrutiny over the council’s handling of nominees for the panel. The council approved Alex Johnson, a vice president at Bryson Gillette, a consulting firm that also has done campaign work. The firm has handled more than $2 million worth of work for various campaigns since May 2020.
MSN – Jeff McDionald (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 9/27/2023
Three out of seven seats on the San Diego Ethics Commission are vacant, meaning the city’s only regulator for enforcing campaign finance and other rules is legally unable to issue fines or mete out other discipline. The commission has not fielded a full board in years. It has also failed to comply with city rules requiring that at least three members of the panel are attorneys. The commission operated with six members during the first half of this year, but three seats expired June 30.
Voice of OC – Hosam Elattar | Published: 9/27/2023
Anaheim politicians are cracking down on using private cellphones and other electronic devices to conduct city business, a practice that independent investigators say city officials frequently used to circumvent the state’s public records law. City officials directed staff to require the use of government phones and devices for top officials and staff, forbid conducting city business on personal accounts, and requiring officials to forward city business emails to government accounts.
Yahoo News – Lauren Sforza (The Hill) | Published: 9/27/2023
A four-time candidate for Congress in California was charged with misusing campaign funds, including transferring the cash back to his personal accounts via his friends and family. The indictment accuses Omar Navarro of using campaign money for personal expenses, including trips to Las Vegas and two criminal defense attorneys, and falsely recording them as campaign expenses to the FEC.
Connecticut Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 9/25/2023
House Speaker Matt Ritter said the General Assembly will not vote in the special session on a proposal to allow publicly financed candidates in Connecticut to raise money online using ActBlue, the popular Democratic fundraising platform. Ritter said ActBlue’s platform is not compliant with state law, and lawyers have struggled to draft statutory language that would open Connecticut to ActBlue without conflicting with or undermining the Citizens’ Election Program, which finances most campaigns for the General Assembly.
MSN – Charles Rabin (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/20/2023
Now-suspended Miami Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla is facing criminal charges he sold his vote for $245,000 in campaign money. At the same time, the FBI is separately investigating whether Mayor Francis Suarez worked behind the scenes to help a developer who was paying him $10,000 a month. Local prosecutors have an open case into whether Commissioner Joe Carollo, a former mayor, held improper influence over the police force. With half of Miami’s six elected officials under a cloud, there are renewed calls to clean house.
MSN – Brittany Shammas (Washington Post) | Published: 9/24/2023
After months of controversy over new directives governing classroom instruction in Florida – changes critics said sanitized or even distorted the past – Black pastors across the state agreed their churches had no choice but to respond. They would teach Black history themselves. A nonprofit coalition of religious institutions, Faith in Florida, put together a tool kit to guide the churches and suggest books, articles, documentaries, and reports covering the Black experience. The churches’ involvement harks back to the pivotal role many played in the struggle to end segregation and advance voting rights.
Times of Northwest Indiana – Dan Carden | Published: 9/27/2023
Indiana election law’s silence on corporate contributions to super PACs means such donations are prohibited or otherwise limited, the state Supreme Court ruled in answering a question from the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Indiana enforcement authorities have said they do not intend to punish corporate donations to super PACs, even if prohibited by state law, because the contributions are authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. In the majority opinion, Justice Derek Molter said it is “no doubt time” for state lawmakers to update the law to reflect the Citizens United ruling.
Yahoo News – Emily Wagster Pettus (Associated Press) | Published: 9/26/2023
Mississippi announced financial incentives for a shipbuilder to expand in Gulfport in 2020, days after the president of the shipbuilder’s parent company made a $10,000 campaign contribution to Gov. Tate Reeves. The state economic development agency under Reeves’ supervision, the Mississippi Development Authority, announced Gulf Ship would receive state incentives to expand the site it opened in Gulfport in 2006.
Missouri Independent – Jason Hancock | Published: 9/22/2023
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher is facing allegations he threatened to terminate the employment of a nonpartisan legislative staffer who resisted his monthslong push to hire a private company to manage constituent information. Plocher denies the accusations. But Dana Miller, chief clerk of the House since 2018 and a chamber staff member since 2001, wrote in an email to a GOP lawmaker about “threats made by Speaker Plocher concerning my future employment.” Miller was not the only legislative staffer expressing concerns.
MSN – Steven Porter (Boston Globe) | Published: 9/21/2023
State Rep. Troy Merner resigned his seat in the New Hampshire House after investigators for the state attorney general’s office concluded Merner no longer lives in the district he represents and has not lived there since August 2022. Merner has been renting an office in Lancaster, but he has been residing with his wife and stepson about 15 miles south, in Carroll, which is part of a different legislative district in Coos County.
DNyuz – Tracey Tully (New York Times) | Published: 9/22/2023
Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey quit politics in 2004 after announcing to his second wife and to the world that he was gay and had an affair with a man who worked for him. Now McGreevey, who once was thought to have the White House in his sights, is making plans to do what he had said he would not: re-enter politics. Over the past several months, McGreevey has begun cobbling together support for an expected run for mayor of Jersey City, the state’s second-largest city, where he has lived for eight years.
MSN – Chris Shelton (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 9/26/2023
Former Paterson Mayor Joey Torres was indicted after he was accused of launching a new bid to run the city in 2022 despite being barred from doing so six years ago. Torres pleaded guilty to using city employees to work at a liquor distributorship his family planned to open. As part of his plea deal, Torres was required to forfeit future public employment.
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 9/27/2023
The state ethics commission conducted its first meeting following a New York Supreme Court justice’s decision that found the agency was created in violation of the state constitution and must suspend its work pending the outcome of any appeal. The appellate division of the state Supreme Court granted a temporary stay on the decision. A permanent stay has not been granted. Earlier this year, another state Supreme Court justice ruled the commission was created in line with the state constitution and it was not improper for the final appointments to be made by an “Independent Review Commission” made up of law school deans.
DNyuz – Grace Ashford (New York Times) | Published: 9/19/2023
More than half the Village of Sleepy Hollow, New York, is of Hispanic origin. But those demographics are rarely reflected on Election Day. The village is part of the Town of Mount Pleasant, which uses an at-large voting system that allows residents to cast ballots for all open positions. The Mount Pleasant town board has no Latino members, and no one could recall the last time it had one. That disconnect has led to a formal claim filed with the town, on behalf of five residents who say that they and other Latino voters are being disenfranchised.
MSN – Shayna Jacobs (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2023
A judge overseeing a $250 million lawsuit against Donald Trump ruled the former president and his company committed fraud by inflating his net worth in business transactions, narrowing the scope of what the state’s attorney general must prove at an upcoming civil trial. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron also ordered the cancellation of Trump business certificates and imposed sanctions on attorneys representing him for repeating arguments that failed multiple times previously and were called “borderline frivolous.”
The City – George Joseph, Bianca Pallaro, and Tom Robbins | Published: 9/22/2023
Eric Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign repeatedly ignored city regulators’ requests to identify political supporters who they suspected of having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars without disclosing their role. The flagged donations totaled more than $300,000 from more than 500 donors. Thanks to the city program that provides matching funds of up to eight-to-one for eligible contributions, the donations secured an additional $522,000 in public funds for the Adams campaign.
North Carolina – In North Carolina, Republicans Seek More Control Over Elections
Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 9/24/2023
Shortly before North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper began his first term in 2017, his rivals in the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to strip the position of key powers, including the governor’s longstanding authority to appoint majorities to the state election board and local election boards in all 100 counties. After the state Supreme Court ruled the move was illegal, lawmakers put the idea on the ballot, but voters shot that down. Now, seven years after their first try, the legislators appear on the verge of getting what they have long sought.
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/22/2023
Ohio Republicans’ new state legislative map would make it easier for them to expand their supermajorities in both the House and Senate, as well as create fewer competitive districts overall, according to an analysis. Last year’s redistricting plan was repeatedly found by the state Supreme Court to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. The ruling means the Ohio Redistricting Commission must again pass new district lines ahead of the 2024 election.
MSN – Mike Rogoway (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 9/27/2023
Three former public officials in Morrow County could be hit with thousands of dollars in penalties for failing to acknowledge they stood to profit when they gave tax breaks to Amazon data centers and arranged land sales to make way for the huge installations. Staff with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission proposed settling ethics charges against the officials. Two would pay $5,000 penalties and another would pay $2,500. Their attorney is contesting the charges and wants the commission to waive all penalties and issue a “letter of education” instead.
MSN – Allie Feinberg (Knoxville News Sentinel) | Published: 9/27/2023
Knox County Ethics Committee Chairperson Michael Covington is trying to enlist the investigative powers of the state to get to the bottom of a complaint against county Commissioner Kyle Ward over a land deal he struck with a prominent developer. Covington filed a complaint with the state comptroller’s office, which investigates allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse by government officials. Ward is accused in a complaint of paying just $10 each to developer Scott Davis for two plots of land assessed at $50,000 apiece.
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