News You Can Use Digest - September 3, 2021 - State and Federal Communications

September 3, 2021  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 3, 2021


Are Censures of Politicians a Form of Free Speech or a Threat to It?
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 8/30/2021

Censures, which are formal reprimands and a kind of punishment, seem to be on the rise in these divisive times. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall on whether the First Amendment has anything to say about when elected bodies can impose them on their members. The justices will have to decide whether censures condemning politicians’ statements are a threat to free speech that chills expression or a form of free speech responding to one set of views with another.

As Washington Stews, State Legislatures Increasingly Shape American Politics
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 8/29/2021

With the release of the 2020 census, the drawing of legislative districts that could in large part determine control of Congress for the next decade heads to the nation’s state Legislatures, the heart of Republican political power. Increasingly, state Legislatures, especially in 30 GOP-controlled states, have seized an outsize role for themselves, pressing conservative agendas on voting, Covid-19, and the culture wars that are amplifying partisan splits and shaping policy well beyond their own borders.

Capitol Riot Defendants’ Lawyer Apparently Hospitalized with Covid Leaves Clients Without Counsel, Prosecutors Say
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2021

An attorney who represents the largest number of defendants charged in the January 6 Capitol riots has dropped out of sight amid conflicting statements by associates over whether he has been hospitalized with covid-19, U.S. prosecutors told judges. Prosecutors said John Pierce has been incommunicado for the past seven days, leaving 17 clients effectively without defense counsel. The filings put a spotlight on Pierce, whose rhetoric has attracted Trump supporters facing criminal charges and whose business and legal tactics have drawn questions over whether his political or financial interests are affecting his representation of clients.

Corporate America Launches Massive Lobbying Blitz to Kill Key Parts of Democrats’ $3.5 Trillion Economic Plan
MSN – Tony Romm (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2021

A torrent of political groups representing some of the country’s most influential corporations is laying the groundwork for a massive lobbying campaign to stop Congress from enacting significant swaths of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic agenda. The emerging opposition appears to be vast, spanning drug manufacturers, big banks, tech titans, major retailers, and oil-and-gas giants. In recent weeks, top Washington organizations representing these and other industries have started strategizing behind the scenes, seeking to battle back key elements in Democrats proposed overhaul to federal health care, education, and safety net programs.

DOJ Issues Warning to States Ahead of Redistricting
MSN – Rebecca Beitsch (Roll Call) | Published: 9/1/2021

The Department of Justice issued a warning to states ahead of a year of congressional mapmaking that it will pursue cases against jurisdictions seeking to dilute the voting power of various minorities.  The latest guidance signals an administration prepared to take a more aggressive approach in battling gerrymandering. The department said it would be ready to go after any jurisdiction that does not meet the “one person, one vote” principle.

Ex-UK Chancellor Philip Hammond Rapped by Lobbying Watchdog – Matei Rosca and Matt Honeycombe-Foster | Published: 9/1/2021

Former British Chancellor Philip Hammond was scolded by Westminster’s lobbying watchdog for contacting high-ranking Treasury civil servants on behalf of his new employer, OakNorth, a London-based lender. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) said Hammond’s attempt to pitch OakNorth services to officials, even on a non-profit basis as far as the bank was concerned, was inappropriate. Hammond accused ACOBA of trying to prove its own relevance and challenged it to point to a specific breach of the rules governing jobs for ex-ministers.

G.O.P. Election Reviews Create a New Kind of Security Threat
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 9/1/2021

As Republican state and county officials and their allies mount efforts to discredit the result of the 2020 contest, there has been a wave of GOP-driven reviews of the vote count conducted by uncredentialed and partisan companies or people. These reviews have given rise to their own new set of threats to the integrity of the voting machines, software, and other equipment that make up the nation’s election infrastructure. Election officials and security experts say previously unknown technical vulnerabilities could be discovered by partisan malefactors and exploited in future elections.

Jan. 6 Investigators Demand Records from Social Media Companies
Yahoo News – Nicholas Wu (Politico) | Published: 8/27/2021

The select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is seeking records from social media companies, on whose platforms many defendants charged in the Capitol attack planned and coordinated their actions. The panel is asking all the companies to explain whether their algorithms helped spread misinformation and account for what they did to address or remove content or posts that might have spread falsehoods about the riot. It also requests information on the companies’ communications with law enforcement regarding January 6 and the election, as well as on their reporting practices.

January 6 Committee to Ask Telecommunications Companies to Preserve Phone Records of Members of Congress Who Participated in ‘Stop the Steal’ Rally
CNN – Ryan Nobles, Zachary Cohen, Annie Grayer, and Whitney Wild | Published: 8/30/2021

The House select committee investigating the January 6 riot is set to request that a group of telecommunications companies preserve the phone records of a group of Republican members of Congress and former President Trump, as well as members of the Trump family, who played some role in the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as the prelude to the insurrection at the Capitol. According to the sources, this group was targeted because the committee concluded each of these lawmakers played some role in the rally. They either attended, spoke, actively planned, or encouraged people to attend.

Lauren Boebert Removes Name from Business Filings Tied to Oil and Gas Consulting Firm Run by Her Husband
Colorado Sun – Thy Vo | Published: 9/1/2021

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert removed her name from business paperwork linked to the oil and gas consulting firm run by her husband after drawing scrutiny for nearly $1 million in payments it received from Terra Energy, a drilling company operating in her district. The changes, made after media reports of her ties to Boebert Consulting, distance Rep. Boebert from the two companies, which are registered to the couple’s home. But it is not clear what ownership or stake, if any, Lauren Boebert has in either company.

Seven Capitol Police Officers Sue Trump, Right-Wing Groups Over Injuries from Jan. 6 Riot
MSN – Paul Duggan and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 8/26/2021

Seven U.S. Capitol Police officers sued former President Trump and more than a dozen alleged participants in the January 6 riot at the Capitol, saying the defendants are responsible for the officers being “violently assaulted, spat on, tear-gassed, bear-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs and epithets, and put in fear for their lives.” The lawsuit alleges Trump, by falsely claiming the presidential election was rigged, incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol to stop Congress from confirming President Biden’s victory.

Tommy Tuberville’s Stock Trades During Infrastructure Talks Raise Questions About Conflicts of Interest
Center for Responsive Politics – Isaiah Poritz | Published: 9/1/2021

In July, while the Senate was in the final weeks of negotiating the bipartisan infrastructure bill, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville bought and sold between $170,000 and $475,000 in stock and options of a mining and steel manufacturing company that said it could benefit greatly from the infrastructure plan. While Tuberville ultimately voted against the bill and his spokesperson said he was not involved in negotiations, the optics of trading stock in a company that could benefit from pending legislation can be harmful, ethics experts say.


Canada How Interested Outsiders Use ‘Third Party’ Status to Promote Causes, Influence Election
CBC – Christian Pass-Lang | Published: 8/30/2021

With an election underway, parties are officially on the hunt for the votes of Canadians, crisscrossing the country and campaigning right up to the September 20 election. To fund all that travel, advertising, and election gear, parties will be spending a lot of money. But political parties and candidates will not be the only groups spending big in the election campaign. “Third parties: are also in the mix and will be hoping to shape the political conversation and get their issue prioritized.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona ASU and UA Offer Lawmakers Free Tickets to Football Games; the Public Can’t Know Who Accepts Them – Alison Steinbach (Arizona Republic) | Published: 8/27/2021

The return of college football carries a perk for all members of the Legislature: free admission to every game at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. It is part of the universities’ efforts to engage with lawmakers, build relationships, and set issues for the upcoming legislative session, university officials say. But those who monitor money and politics say the public deserves more information about the practice. Under state lobbying laws, the free tickets qualify as “special events,” not gifts. That means as long as all 90 members of the Legislature are invited, the schools do not have to report who accepted their offer.

Arizona FBI Examining $100M Tax Refund Push by Gov. Ducey Staffers after Arizona Republic Investigation
MSN – Craig Harris (Arizona Republic) | Published: 9/1/2021

An investigation by the Arizona Republic uncovered how Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration pushed the Department of Revenue to agree to refund sales taxes on fuel for mining companies, even though that tax had been in place for decades. The companies that stood to benefit were represented by the tax firm Ryan LLC, founded by Ducey supporter G. Brint Ryan. The top three deputies in Ducey’s administration left their government jobs to work for Ryan to push for the tax refund. The FBI’s Public Corruption unit is now investigating the matter.

Colorado Conservative Dark-Money Group Battles to Keep Its Donors Secret
Durango Herald – Sandra Fish (Colorado Sun) | Published: 8/25/2021

An administrative law judge recommended a $40,000 fine for Unite for Colorado after it spent $4 million to support or oppose three 2020 ballot initiatives, finding the group should have revealed its donors. The ruling also requires the nonprofit to file as an issue committee and reveal its donors from August 2020 through January. Unite for Colorado plans to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, progressive activists filed a new complaint against Unite for Colorado centered on the $3.7 million it has donated to two ballot initiatives likely to be considered by voters in November.

Colorado Redistricting Lobbying Laws Violated, New Complaint Alleges
Colorado Springs Gazette – Evan Wyloge | Published: 8/24/2021

A complaint filed with the Colorado secretary of state accuses a group of secretly funded political operatives of illegally lobbying the state’s redistricting commissioners. The complaint accuses former House Speaker Frank McNulty and former lawmaker Greg Brophy of lobbying the state’s independent redistricting commissioners without formally registering as lobbyists. It also accuses political consultant Alan Philp, along with McNulty and Brophy, of failing to report payments for lobbying activity.

Florida FEC Slaps U.S. Rep. Salazar’s Campaign for Accepting Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Illegal Contributions
Florida Bulldog – Francisco Alvarado | Published: 9/2/2021

U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar’s re-election committee has amassed $147,400 in excessive campaign contributions for her primary, according to warning letters from the FEC. The over-the-legal-limit donations include $5,700 from Abelardo de la Espriella, a Colombian lawyer and U.S. permanent resident who up until two years ago was the criminal defense attorney for a fellow countryman targeted in a Colombian money-laundering probe involving ill-gotten government contracts in Venezuela.

Florida VancoreJones, Paid to ‘Influence Local Government,’ Failed to Register as Lobbyists
Tallahassee Reports – Steve Stewart | Published: 8/30/2021

An exhibit in the recently concluded public corruption trial in Tallahassee indicates J.T. Burnette executed a contract on November 12, 2013, with VancoreJones Communications to “influence local government agencies” related to real estate projects on behalf of TM Street, LLC.  But records show no one from VancoreJones has ever registered to lobby for TM Street with the Leon County Commission, or the city of Tallahassee.

Georgia New Georgia Campaign Finance Law Is ‘Carving a Loophole’ for Unlimited Fundraising
MSN – Elliot Davis (U.S. News and World Report) | Published: 9/1/2021

Eleven states allow candidates to raise unlimited contributions. States with unlimited financing often cite strict laws mandating disclosure and transparency to defend the embrace of money in politics. They also note their systems ensure a level playing field. But that is not the case in Georgia, critics note. Not only could the new law, described by analysts as an “incumbent protection scheme,” offer the current governor a massive advantage in a crucial race next year, but it has the possibility of being exported to other states where it could reshape the way elections are run.

Illinois Illinois Legislators Pass Redrawn Legislative Map, Kill Ethics Bill; Energy Policy Overhaul Clears Senate
MSN – Rick Pearson and Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 8/31/2021

Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly used their supermajority to push through revised boundaries for the state’s legislative districts aimed at ensuring their control in Springfield through the end of the decade. The House voted down proposed change made by Gov. JB Pritzker to an ethics package, killing the legislation. Pritzker and sponsoring lawmakers have hailed the package as an important step toward addressing pervasive public corruption in Illinois, but good-government groups and even some supporters have argued that does not go far enough.

Indiana Lawsuit Claims Indiana Treasurer Granted Illegal Contracts
MSN – Tom Davies (Associated Press) | Published: 8/31/2021

A whistleblower is suing Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, alleging her office failed to get required approvals on contracts and made improper payments totaling more than $6.5 million, often to top contributors to her campaigns. The lawsuit filed by a former top Treasury Department staffer claims Mitchell bypassed required approvals from other state agencies in giving the contracts for lobbying and financial services without seeking competitive bids.

Michigan Michigan GOP Cannot Use Party Fund to Back Petition Drive to Overhaul Voting
MSN – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 8/31/2021

The Michigan Republican Party cannot use its administrative fund to back a petition proposing major changes to voting in the state, according to a preliminary review by the Bureau of Elections. Former general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Bob LaBrant, raised concerns about the possibility the GOP might use its administrative fund to funnel undisclosed contributions to a petition drive that would circumvent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s expected veto of election bills.

Michigan Michigan Utilities Spent Millions Electing Lawmakers Who Could Probe Outages
Energy Central – Craig Mauer (Detroit News) | Published: 8/30/2021

Michigan officeholders who are poised to investigate a wave of recent outages that spurred 1 million customers to lose power have benefited from $55 million in “political” and “civic” spending over the last five years by the state’s top utilities. Critics said the close financial connections between CMS Energy and DTE Energy and lawmakers raise doubts about state government’s ability to prevent future outages, prepare the electric system for weather that is becoming increasingly severe, and advocate on behalf of residents.

Minnesota MN Lawmaker Cuts Off 3 Fingers in Saw Mishap; Lobbyists’ Donations Create Awkwardness
Yahoo News – Dave Orrick (St. Paul Pioneer Press) | Published: 8/31/2021

In August, Minnesota Rep. Erin Koegel lost control of a power saw and cut off three fingers on her left hand. A GoFundMe page was established to help her with child-care and other expenses while she recovers. A number of lobbyists’ names were on the donor list. That would appear to violate a state law that prohibits lawmakers from accepting most gifts worth more than five dollars from lobbyists. There are exceptions, but none appear to apply for Koegel’s situation. Speaker Melissa Hortman asked a House staffer to seek a formal opinion from the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board.

New Mexico Judge Reverses Decision to Deny Gonzales Funds
Albuquerque Journal – Jessica Dyer | Published: 8/27/2021

A state District Court judge reversed the Albuquerque city clerk’s decision to deny Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales over $600,000 in public financing for his mayoral campaign, citing a lack of due process. Judge Bryan Biedscheid said Watson could still ultimately deny Gonzales the money. To do so, however, he would need to either determine that Gonzales has been found to have violated regulations or make the finding himself after a new process he must establish that grants Gonzales due process.

New York At JCOPE, Two More Cuomo Appointees Resign
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/1/2021

The number of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) are dwindling. In the short term, that could render JCOPE unable to take action against Cuomo; in the longer term, the departures could provide the ex-governor far less protection from possible sanction. Since Cuomo announced his own resignation on August 10, three of his six appointees to the panel have resigned or stated the intention to exit the commission.

New York Cuomo’s Legal Woes Continue, Could Cost Public at Least $9.5M
NBC News – Associated Press | Published: 8/31/2021

Resigning from office probably did not end former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legal problems, and no matter what happens next, taxpayers are likely to wind up with a hefty bill. The state has agreed to pay up to $9.5 million to lawyers representing and investigating Cuomo and his administration over sexual harassment allegations and other matters. That figure does not include the legal fees of Cuomo’s private attorney, whose bills are being paid by his campaign committee. Gov. Kathy Hochul can decide whether the state will continue to pay lawyers to defend the former governor and his administration going forward.

New York Hochul’s First Bill Suspends State’s Open Meetings Law
Politico – Bill Mahoney | Published: 9/1/2021

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s bill extending New York’s eviction moratorium includes language that suspends the state’s Open Meetings Law.  The legislation, the first of Hochul’s tenure, was due to pass a week after the governor pledged that “transparency will be the hallmark of [her] administration.” But the measure, and the rushed way in which it was logrolled through the Legislature, did not win over many transparency advocates.

New York JCOPE Votes to Ask AG to Conduct Criminal Probe of Alleged Leak to Cuomo
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/26/2021

In a startling reversal, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed a motion asking state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate whether confidential information was illegally leaked to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019. JCOPE also authorized James to conduct a criminal probe into whether the state inspector general’s office, which investigated the alleged leak to Cuomo, intentionally failed to find out the identity of the leaker and instead “covered up” the matter.

New York NY Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Top Aide Is Married to a Lobbyist for Verizon, Google and Airbnb
CNBC – Brian Schwartz | Published: 8/26/2021

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s top aide is married to a lobbyist who represent clients such as Verizon, Google, and Airbnb. Hochul named Karen Persichilli Keogh, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate office and the wife of longtime lobbyist Mike Keogh, as secretary to the governor. Prior to taking her new job with Hochul, Karen Keogh was an executive at J.P. Morgan Chase, where she once held a state lobbying position. Mike Keogh has several marquee clients that have recently been trying to influence New York lawmakers and officials.

North Carolina North Carolina General Assembly Passes Bill Limiting Nonprofit Donor Disclosure
Ballotpedia – Jerrick Adams | Published: 9/1/2021

The North Carolina Senate gave final approval to a bill that would make donations to nonprofit corporations confidential. The bill now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper. The bill’s supporters say it will protect donors from harassment or discrimination based on the organizations they choose to support. Opponents say it would decrease transparency around campaign contributions and allow politically active nonprofits to hide their donors.

North Carolina Trump’s Pick in a Key Senate Race Touts His Agriculture Ties. He Doesn’t Mention His Role in a Bankruptcy That Cost Farmers Millions.
MSN – Michael Kranish (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2021

As U.S. Rep. Ted Budd launched his campaign for a pivotal U.S. Senate seat earlier this year, the North Carolina Republican pitched himself as a staunch ally of farmers. Budd’s story helped him win the support of former President Trump and the Club for Growth, a conservative political committee, has vowed to spend a record $10 million on his campaign. But as Budd has told his narrative in a state where agriculture is the largest business, he made no mention of his role in his family’s calamitous involvement in a company called AgriBioTech, which ended in a bankruptcy case that cost farmers millions of dollars in losses.

Ohio John Raphael Avoids Prison in Greater Columbus Convention Center Bribery Scheme Sentence
MSN – Bill Bush (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 8/26/2021

Deviating from federal sentencing guidelines, a judge gave two-time convicted public corruption figure John Raphael, once an influential Columbus City Hall lobbyist, no prison time in a bribery case. Raphael could have faced up to 20 years in prison for taking bribes to help a national food services company win a public food-service contract from the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, on whose board he served at the time. But U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson, who acknowledged he grew up in the same neighborhood as the defendant and knew members of his family, sentenced Raphael to one day of prison, waived in advance, and placed him on three years of probation.

Oregon Multnomah County Judge Rules Campaign Contribution Limits Constitutional
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Sam Stites | Published: 8/26/2021

Campaign contribution limits passed by Multnomah County voters are now able to be enforced in local elections. Circuit Court Judge Eric Bloch County ruled political donations caps do not violate free speech protected by the First Amendment. The ruling is sure to put Multnomah County back in the spotlight in terms of discussions around statewide limits on campaign donations. Oregon is one of only five states with no limits at all on contributions, despite decades of effort by campaign finance activists.

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Ordered to Pay More Than $7,000, Forfeit Vacation Days for Ethics Violations
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Andrew Goldstein | Published: 8/26/2021

The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission found Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet violated the law by improperly receiving travel reimbursements, getting payments for appearances related to his job, and incorrectly filing financial documents. The commission ordered Hamlet to pay close to $8,000 and forfeit 14 vacation days, valued at more than $12,000. At least some of the violations occurred during a trip Hamlet and several other district administrators took to Cuba in April 2019.

Rhode Island Anthony Silva, McKee’s Chief of Staff, Resigns Amid Wetlands Controversy
MSN – Antonia Noori Farzan (Providence Journal) | Published: 8/30/2021

Anthony Silva, the embattled chief of staff to Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, resigned from his position amid an investigation into whether he used his political influence to get permission to develop a controversial wetlands property. Silva had been facing both a state Ethics Commission complaint brought forward by Republicans and an independent investigation by the attorney general’s office that was initiated at McKee’s request, amid mounting political pressure.

Rhode Island Former RI Lottery Director Changes Mind After Registering as IGT Lobbyist
WPRI – Eli Sherman | Published: 9/1/2021

Days after former Rhode Island Lottery Director Gerald Aubin registered as a lobbyist for IGT, the state’s longtime gambling said he will not be working for the company after all. Aubin, who served as director of the state Lottery beginning in 1996, retired in 2020. He formed a new company called GSA and was listed on the secretary of state’s website as a lobbyist for IGT, a company he regulated for two decades. “… As a former gaming regulator and law enforcement official, I couldn’t get comfortable with it,” Aubin said.

Texas GOP Legislators in Texas Give Final Approval to New Voting Restrictions, Overcoming Democratic Opposition
MSN – Eva Ruth Moravec and Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2021

The Texas Legislature passed the final version of a Republican bill that will implement strict new voting rules, sending it to the governor’s desk after months of intense partisan battling over how elections should be conducted in the state. The votes were a win for Gov. Greg Abbott. He had called two special legislative sessions as part of a long-running effort to pass the elections measure, which will take effect in three months. After the Senate voted, Abbott said he looks forward to signing the bill into law.

Wisconsin Emails Show Prehn Coordinated with Republican Officials, Lobbyists as He Clings to Expired Seat
Wisconsin Examiner – Henry Redmon | Published: 8/26/2021

Fred Prehn, the chairperson of the Natural Resources Board who has generated controversy and complaints for refusing to vacate his seat after his term expired in May, coordinated and communicated with high-profile Republican officials and lobbyists as he planned to maintain the GOP’s grip on Wisconsin’s conservation policy, emails show. State Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit against Prehn seeking to boot him from the post. Legislative leaders hired taxpayer-funded attorneys to defend Prehn.

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