September 30, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 30, 2022
Brooklyn’s Library Moves to Slip Books Through Red State Bans
MSN – Madina Touré (Politico) | Published: 9/24/2022
The front line of America’s culture war now runs straight through the nation’s school libraries, with conservatives in dozens of states outlawing books and instruction and the left working to shield targeted authors. Organizations in deep-blue New York are stepping into the fray by directly lending 25,000 books to non-residents since spring, including thousands of students living under the bans. Hundreds of titles have been shelved in nearly 3,000 schools across 26 states, according to the nonprofit free speech group PEN America.
D.C. Court Asked to Decide If Trump Denied Rape Claim as Part of Job
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 9/27/2022
A federal appeals court panel asked the District of Columbia’s highest court to decide whether Donald Trump was acting within the scope of his job as president when he denied a rape allegation dating back to the 1990s, a pivotal question that will determine whether the woman can keep pursuing a defamation lawsuit against him. A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned portions of a federal judge’s previous ruling allowing columnist E. Jean Carroll to pursue a defamation case against Trump over his denials of her rape allegation.
How Kevin McCarthy’s Political Machine Worked to Sway the GOP Field
Raleigh News and Observer – Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Marianna Sotomayor (Washington Post) | Published: 9/27/2022
The political machine around U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out Republican candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where a more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning. The allies close to McCarthy have sometimes taken steps to conceal their efforts with money passing from top GOP donors through organizations that do not disclose their donors or have limited public records, federal disclosures show.
In a Big Jan. 6 Case, Oath Keepers Go on Trial for Seditious Conspiracy
NPR – Ryan Lucas | Published: 9/27/2022
In the highest-profile prosecution so far stemming from the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the founder of the Oath Keepers and four other individuals linked to the far-right, anti-government group are on trial, facing seditious conspiracy and other charges stemming from the deadly assault. Stewart Rhodes, who established the Oath Keepers in 2009, and his co-defendants are accused of spending months recruiting, training, and conspiring to use force to prevent the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden. Prosecutors allege the plot included stashing guns just outside Washington, D.C for a quick reaction force to rush into the city if necessary.
Inside the Civil Rights Campaign to Get Big Tech to Fight the ‘Big Lie’
MSN – Naomi Nix (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2022
A coalition of five dozen civil rights organizations is criticizing Silicon Valley’s biggest social media companies for not taking more aggressive measures to counter election misinformation on their platforms in the months leading up to November’s midterm elections. Comments by civil rights activists shed light on the political pressures tech companies face behind the scenes as they make high-stakes decisions about which potentially rule-breaking posts to leave up or take down in a campaign season in which hundreds of congressional seats are up for grabs.
Lawmakers, Challengers Plan Fundraising Blitz Ahead of Friday Deadline
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 9/28/2022
Lawmakers and challengers are planning a fundraising blitz ahead of the quarterly deadline, the last big one before the November midterms, which are on track to be the priciest nonpresidential cycle yet. The onslaught of appeals includes desperate-sounding emails, as well as more than 100 in-person events for members of both parties to raise campaign money from K Street lobbyists and PAC donors while Congress is in session. The uncertainty of which parties will control the Senate and House next year has helped to motivate donors.
Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional Stock Trading Ban Has a Massive Blind Trust Loophole and Is Too Broad, Ethics Experts Warn
MSN – Bryan Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 9/28/2022
House Democratic leaders have released the text of a bill that would ban members of Congress, senior congressional staff, Supreme Court justices, and members of the executive branch from owning or trading individual stocks. Ethics experts are already warning that the bill, called the Combatting Financial Conflicts of Interest in Government Act, has a major flaw when it comes to blind trusts. The Project on Government Oversight noted a provision that allows for the creation of blind trusts that do not comply with existing regulations currently outlined in the Ethics in Government Act, which the bill would amend.
Project Veritas Loses Jury Verdict to Democratic Consulting Firm
MSN – Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) | Published: 9/23/2022
A federal jury found Project Veritas, a conservative group often accused of using deceptive tactics, liable for violating wiretapping laws and misrepresenting itself in an undercover effort to target Democratic political consultants. Democracy Partners claimed it had been infiltrated by a Project Veritas operative who lied about her name and background to obtain an internship during the 2016 presidential campaign, and secretly recorded conversations while working there.
Rep. Lauren Boebert’s Campaign May Be Violating Election Law in Trying to Sell Her
MSN – Zach Everson (Forbes) | Published: 9/27/2022
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s campaign has placed advertisements directing supporters to buy her new memoir from retailers, an arrangement that may violate campaign finance laws. Boebert’s ad on WinRed directs supporters to buy her books from retailers like Amazon, which could theoretically lead to royalties. A spokesperson for Boebert’s campaign said the ad follows previous guidance from the FEC but a campaign finance law expert, Brett Kappel, disagrees.
Republicans Block Probe of Contributions by Chinese Elites to Trump PAC Through Spa Operator
MSN – Sheridan Wall (McClatchy) | Published: 9/27/2022
Campaign finance complaints against an Asian day-spa operator from South Florida who allegedly funneled contributions from Chinese elites, likely including foreign nationals, to a campaign committee backing then-President Trump have been dismissed. The action by the FEC came despite a staff finding that laws likely were broken. A Miami Herald investigation found that over an 18-month period, Yang published online ads targeting overseas clients – mostly from China – promoting Trump fundraisers as opportunities to mingle with the then-president, his family, and other top Republicans.
Supreme Court to Hear 2 Cases with Major Implications for 2024
MSN – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 9/29/2022
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case out of North Carolina that asks the justices to revoke the ability of state courts to review election laws under their states’ constitutions. A validation of the so-called Independent State Legislature theory underpinning the case could reshape American elections. Another case from Alabama involves a challenge to the state’s congressional map and whether Black voters’ power was illegally diluted. The result could kick back open congressional redistricting in several states two years after the entire nation went through a redraw.
Top State Judges Make a Rare Plea in a Momentous Supreme Court Election Case
DNyuz – Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 9/26/2022
The Conference of Chief Justices, a group representing the top state judicial officers in the nation, filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in a politically charged election-law case. The brief urged the court to reject a legal theory pressed by Republicans that would give state Legislatures extraordinary power. If the Supreme Court adopts the theory, it will radically reshape how federal elections are conducted by giving state lawmakers independent authority, not subject to review by state courts, to set election rules in conflict with state constitution.
Trump Lawyers Argue to Limit White House Aides’ Testimony to Jan. 6 Grand Jury
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2022
Lawyers for former President Trump have entered a high-stakes legal battle seeking to limit the scope of former top White House aides’ testimony to a federal grand jury that is investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 elections. The action sets up a potentially precedent-setting struggle that could affect the Justice Department’s investigation of the Capitol attack and address the scope of a former president’s assertion of executive or attorney-client privilege to preserve the confidentiality of advisers’ communications.
Trump Objects to Verifying List of Property Seized from Florida Estate – Court Filing
Reuters – Jacqueline Thomsen and Sarah Lynch | Published: 9/29/2022
Lawyers for former President Trump are resisting a federal judge’s instruction to submit a sworn declaration on whether they believe the government’s list of property taken from Trump’s Florida estate is accurate. The former president’s legal team told Judge Raymond Dearie, who is reviewing the materials taken in the federal raid of the Florida property, that they do not believe Dearie has the authority to require them to make such a filing. Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the FBI planted evidence.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Supreme Court Says Lone Arizona Regulator Bob Burns Can Seek Utility Docs
MSN – Bob Christie (Associated Press) | Published: 9/28/2022
The Arizona commission that regulates utilities cannot prevent a single member from issuing subpoenas to investigate companies the panel oversees, the state Supreme Court ruled. The former commissioner who filed the case, Bob Burns, said the ruling will prevent others on the commission from uniting to shield utilities from scrutiny. Burns has fought for years to get the state’s largest electric utility to acknowledge it spent millions to elect two Arizona Corporation Commission members in the 2014 election.
Arizona – As More States Create Election Integrity Units, Arizona Is a Cautionary Tale
MSN – Beth Reinhard and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2022
A Washington Post examination of an endeavor in Arizona to systematically ferret out voter fraud found it has turned up few cases and rather than bolster confidence in elections, the absence of massive fraud has fueled more bogus theories and distrust. Arizona’s experience shows the damaging consequences that can result when public officials use their power to reinforce false claims that voter fraud is a significant issue in American elections.
Arkansas – Arkansas Senate Suspends Clark, Strips Him of Seniority for Filing Frivolous Ethics Complaint
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Michael Wickline | Published: 9/27/2022
The Arkansas Senate voted to suspend Sen. Alan Clark and strip him of seniority until the regular session begins on January 9. Clark filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Stephanie Flowers alleging she violated the chamber’s code of ethics by accepting legislative per diem payments for participating by Zoom in the Senate’s regular session meetings in 2021. The Senate found that complaint was frivolous.
California – Despite Scandals, Key California Politicians Glide Toward Reelection. Here’s Why
MSN – Mackenzie Mays and Hannah Wiley (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/28/2022
Three of California’s eight statewide constitutional officers up for reelection in November, all Democrats, have had missteps or faced allegations of misconduct during their first four years in office, but voters do not seem to mind. June’s primary election results show all three are likely to cruise to reelection, a phenomenon that political analysts chalk up to the power of incumbency, California’s polarized politics, and voter apathy toward lesser-known offices.
California – Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Law Inspired by $2 Million Bounty to Influence Insurance Commissioner
MSN – Sophia Bollag (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 9/22/2022
Lobbyists in California are prohibited from charging “success fees” for achieving a desired outcome for their clients. But an investigation by The Sacramento Bee earlier this year revealed that loopholes allowed some companies to pay those fees to influence some decisions by state officials without having to report them. Under a new law, paid efforts to influence decisions or approvals by the insurance commissioner and the director of the Department of Managed Health Care are considered lobbying and lobbyists would have to disclose such activity.
Colorado – Colorado Adopts New Contribution Limits for School Board Campaigns
Colorado Politics – Hannah Metzger | Published: 9/23/2022
The Colorado secretary of state’s office adopted new campaign finance regulations to implement contribution limits passed earlier this year. The changes stem from two bills approved during this year’s legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis: House Bill 1060, which caps donation amounts made to school board candidates, and House Bill 156, which updates reporting requirements for public officials.
Connecticut – Some Bridgeport Politicians Scored Free Tickets to Sound on Sound
MSN – Brian Lockhart (Connecticut Post) | Published: 9/27/2022
When tens-of-thousands of music lovers convened at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park for the first Sound on Sound music festival, some of the city’s elected leaders and department heads were among them. But unlike those other ticket holders, these officials received free admission. Howard Saffan, the developer of the concert amphitheater and one of the partners behind Sound on Sound, said no official was given free tickets. He said certain individuals, such as the mayor police chief, were all granted “credentials” for access.
Florida – Florida Migrant-Moving Company Gave GOP Cash, Has Ties to DeSantis’ Immigration ‘Czar’ and Rep. Matt Gaetz
MSN – Marc Caputo (NBC News) | Published: 9/22/2022
The air charter company Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration hired for his controversial migrant-moving program has contributed money to some top allies of the governor and was once legally represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz and his former partner, who is now Florida’s “public safety czar” in charge of immigration policy. The administration has refused to release a copy of the $12 million contract with Vertol Systems Company for its role in administering the “unauthorized alien” program nor will the governor’s office comment on the $1.6 million the firm has received to send migrants to so-called “sanctuary” cities.
Georgia – Georgia to Replace Voting Machines in Coffee County After Alleged Security Breach
MSN – Amy Garder, Emma Brown, and Jon Swaine (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2022
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced he intends to replace some election equipment in a county where forensics experts working last year for pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell copied virtually every component of the voting system. Some election-security experts have voiced concerns the copying of the Coffee County software, used statewide in Georgia, risks exposing the entire state to hackers, who could use the copied software as a road map to find and exploit vulnerabilities. Raffensperger’s office has said security protocols would make it virtually impossible for votes to be manipulated without detection.
Hawaii – Hawaii Commission Fines Kai Kahele’s Campaign for Illegal Solicitations
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 9/22/2022
The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission fined U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele’s gubernatorial campaign $1,000 for improperly soliciting donations from lists of donors who had contributed to David Ige’s 2014 run for governor. Ige’s office got a complaint from a constituent about a letter from Kahele’s campaign asking for a donation. “I found this [letter] very annoying … how did Kahele get this info?” the message read. The governor’s office forwarded the complaint to campaign spending commission staff, which also obtained the letter from Kahele’s campaign asking for a small-dollar contribution.
Idaho – They’re Women. They’re LDS. And They’re Speaking Their Minds on Politics.
Idaho Capital Sun – Audrey Dutton | Published: 9/28/2022
Many members of the Idaho chapter of Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) are women who, faithful to a religion that tends to be culturally conservative and Republican-aligned, describe being alarmed by the increasing vitriol and manufactured outrage in the state’s politics. Nationally, MWEG is focused on protecting democracy, bipartisan immigration reform, environmental issues, and anti-racism efforts. Chapters have leeway in what they choose to work on. One rule is some topics are off-limits – same-sex marriage and abortion, for example – because they have proven to be incendiary even in a group that strives for rational debate.
Illinois – ‘Deceptive’ Chicago City Wire Hitting Mailboxes Looks Like a Newspaper. But It’s Really a Conservative Campaign Mailer
Book Club Chicago – Noah Asimow | Published: 9/23/2022
The Chicago City Wire has appeared in thousands of mailboxes in the city and suburbs recently. It looks like any local newspaper, but its content and funders tell a different story. The publication and others like it are a product of Local Government Information Services, which is responsible for dozens of conservative news sites in Illinois. Residents said they did not subscribe to the newspapers but assumed the publications were legitimate. While media law experts said the publications were protected by the First Amendment, they said they were essentially political mailers, intentionally disguised as newspapers.
Kentucky – Officials Testify About Kentucky’s Troubled Campaign Finance Reporting System
Spectrum News – Joe Ragusa | Published: 9/28/2022
State lawmakers said they may cut ties with a company tasked with overhauling Kentucky’s campaign finance reporting system. Sen. Damon Thayer, who sponsored the 2019 legislation requiring online reporting, said he is considering a bill to switch back to paper filing for 2023 so they can bring on a new company to rework the filing system. “This has been a complete and utter failure,” Thayer said. Several lawmakers detailed their individual issues with the system during a legislative committee meeting.
Maine – Defense Contractor Pleads Guilty to Making Illegal Contributions to Sen. Collins 2020 Campaign
Lewiston Sun Journal – Colin Woodard (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 9/28/2022
The former chief executive of a defense firm pleaded guilty to illegally funneling more than $200,000 to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign and a PAC that supported her 2020 reelection campaign. Martin Kao, head of the engineering firm Navatek, was charged with violating federal laws prohibiting defense contractors from making such contributions. Prosecutors alleged he and two other company executives had engaged in a conspiracy to funnel the money through family members and a shell company. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, funneling contributions, and two counts of making false statements to authorities.
Michigan – Slotkin Renting Lansing Condo from Campaign Donor, Business Executive
MLive – Jordyn Hermani | Published: 9/23/2022
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is reportedly leasing a residency in Lansing from a medical manufacturing firm executive and donor to her congressional campaign. The firm, Niowave, is a business which manufactures medical radioisotopes. Jerry Hollister, a member of Niowave’s board and director of government relations for the firm, is the official owner of the condo which Slotkin is renting according to a copy of the lease. News of this has led for some conservative groups to question the nature of the relationship between Hollister and Slotkin, saying his company has benefitted from her time in office.
Missouri – Former Page Appointee to Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges
MSN – Christine Byers (KSDK) | Published: 9/28/2022
A former high-level political appointee of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is expected to plead guilty to federal corruption charges involving a COVID-19 relief funds fraud scheme. Tony Weaver, who Page appointed as the change management coordinator at the county Justice Services Center, was indicted along with three St. Louis alderman after an FBI informant wore a wire capturing them involved in a series of alleged schemes. Weaver is accused of participating in a plan to get COVID-19 relief funds for local businesspeople in exchange for a share of the money.
New Mexico – New Mexico Supreme Court Rules Ethics Violation Isn’t Necessarily a Crime
KRQE – Anna Padilla | Published: 9/26/2022
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that an ethical violation by a public official is not a crime. Their ruling focused on four high-profile cases that were all charged under a new statute passed by the Legislature. The ruling reverses the appeals court, which stated the ethics legislation created a criminal charge. The Supreme Court were ruling on whether the law was written so loosely that it should not be used as a criminal statute.
New York – Hochul Campaign Hired Son of Donor Tied to $637M ‘Pay-to-Play’ COVID Deal
New Yorl Post – Zach Williams, Bernadette Hogan, and Bruce Golding | Published: 9/28/2022
The son of a major donor to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was hired by her campaign right around the time his father hosted a fundraiser for the governor and just weeks before the family’s company obtained a deal to sell the state $637 million in overpriced COVID-19 tests. James Tebele began working for Hochul’s campaign as a finance intern in November and appears to have risen in the ranks, or at least pay scale, of her campaign as his father’s fundraising for the governor increased.
New York – Lawsuit Seeks to Strike Key Plank of NY Ethics Law
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/26/2022
A lawsuit is seeking to strike down a key provision of New York’s revamped ethics law that Gov. Kathy Hochul has touted as creating greater independence for the state’s new watchdog panel. The lawsuit challenging the new commission’s confirmation process was filed by Gary Lavine, who was nominated to serve by Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. Lavine’s nomination was rejected by a panel established to scrutinize candidates. Lavine is seeking a judgment that giving a “committee of private citizens” power to confirm or veto nominees violates three articles of New York’s constitution, including one reserving that confirmation power for the state Senate.
Ohio – Ex-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo Scores Legal Win as Appeals Court Overturns Order to Seize $8 Million in Assets
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 9/28/2022
A state appeals court panel overturned a lower court order allowing the state attorney general’s office to seize up to $8 million in assets from Sam Randazzo, handing a legal win to the former chairperson of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Randazzo, whom FirstEnergy admitted to paying $4.3 million in bribes, was accused by Attorney General Dave Yost of selling four properties worth a total of $4.8 million and transferring another $500,000 house to his son in order to prevent them from being potentially seized. Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Brown agreed to allow Yost’s office to freeze up to $8 million.
Oregon – Portland City Council Hopeful Rene Gonzalez Fires Back at Elections Officials, Demands They Waive $77,000 Fine
Portland Oregonian – Shane Dixon Kavanaugh | Published: 9/27/2022
Portland City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez formally asked elections officials to waive a $77,000 fine, arguing a deeply discounted downtown office space he received from a wealthy supporter does not run afoul of the city’s campaign finance rules. Since May, Gonzalez’s campaign has paid a $250 a month to rent the space Susan Mottet, director of Portland’s Small Donor Elections Program, said that is just a fraction of the $6,900 a month “fair market value” for the office. The unreported, 96 percent discount was also an illegal in-kind contribution under the city’s public matching funds program, alleged Mottet.
Pennsylvania – Final Lobby Order Issued
Pennsylvania Newsroom – Staff | Published: 9/19/2022
The State Ethics Commission fined Cigna $42,700 for violations of Pennsylvania’s lobbying law. The commission found Cigna failed to file on time with the Department of State either a quarterly expense report or statement of failure to meet the reporting threshold for the fourth quarter of 2021.
Pennsylvania – Mayoral Candidate Cherelle Parker Became a Harrisburg Lobbyist Days After Resigning from City Council
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 9/28/2022
Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter requires city officials to resign from their positions to run for an office other than the one they currently hold. The uncommon “resign to run” rule often puts city council members eyeing the mayor’s office in a difficult position because it means giving up their more than $130,000 salary. Mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker registered as a lobbyist in Harrisburg 12 days after she resigned her council seat. Ethics experts have long criticized the “revolving door” of former elected officials lobbying their former colleagues on behalf of corporate clients shortly after leaving government.
Pennsylvania – Retrial for Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson Set to Begin This Week
WHYY – Aaron Moselle | Published: 9/27/2022
Philadelphia City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson is on trial again on bribery charges. During the lawmaker’s first trial earlier this year, a judge declared a mistrial, setting up a second proceeding that again threatens to end Johnson’s political career and send him to prison. The case centers on an alleged quid-pro-quo scheme involving Johnson, his wife Dawn Chavous, and two former nonprofit executives. Prosecutors say Johnson accepted nearly $67,000 in bribes from Universal Companies in exchange for political favors that benefited the organization, a developer, and charter school operator.
South Dakota – Noem’s State Plane Use Scrutinized
MSN – Stephen Groves (Associated Press) | Published: 9/24/2022
Several trips in 2019 where South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem blurred the lines between official travel and attending either family or political events sparked a complaint to the state ethics board, which has referred the matter to the Division of Criminal Investigation. A county prosecutor overseeing the investigation will decide whether the governor broke an untested law enacted by voters in 2006 to rein in questionable use of the state airplane.
Texas – Court Denies Paxton’s Request to Reverse Ruling Preventing AG Voter Fraud Investigations
MSN – Philip Jankowski and Allie Morris (Dallas Morning News) | Published: 9/28/2022
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a request from state Attorney General Ken Paxton to reconsider a ruling that has hamstrung his office’s ability to investigate and prosecute election fraud. Judge Scott Walker said granting the attorney general the power to unilaterally prosecute voter fraud violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution and “usurps” the power of district and county attorneys.
Washington – Spokane City Council Raises Campaign Contribution Cap to $1,000
Yahoo News – Colin Tiernan (Spokane Spokesman-Review) | Published: 9/27/2022
The Spokane City Council voted to change city law and raise the individual donor limit from $500 to $1,000. The law had allowed $1,000 donations for races in which a politician spent more than $11,500 of their own money, or a third party spent more than that amount supporting or opposing a candidate. Politicians have had to seek out more donors to fund their campaigns with the $500 cap, city councilperson Zack Zappone said. But he said that increase in donors has been overshadowed by an increase in independent expenditures.
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