June 2, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 2, 2023
National/Federal Nikki Haley Slams Foreign Lobbyists While Accepting Funds from Them ABC News – Soo Rin Kim | Published: 5/31/2023 Despite calling for a ban on foreign lobbying, in which Americans lobby lawmakers and the public for foreign interests, Republican presidential hopeful […]
Nikki Haley Slams Foreign Lobbyists While Accepting Funds from Them
ABC News – Soo Rin Kim | Published: 5/31/2023
Despite calling for a ban on foreign lobbying, in which Americans lobby lawmakers and the public for foreign interests, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations from foreign lobbyists, disclosure reports show. Haley has recently been campaigning on her opposition to foreign lobbying, saying that embassies, and not private consultants or lobbyist agents, should represent foreign interests in the U.S.
Trump Workers Moved Mar-a-Lago Boxes a Day Before FBI Came for Documents
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Spencer Hsu, and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 5/25/2023
Two of Donald Trump’s employees moved boxes of papers the day before a visit by FBI agents and a prosecutor to the former president’s Florida home to retrieve classified documents in response to a subpoena, timing that investigators have come to view as suspicious and an indication of possible obstruction. Trump and his aides also allegedly carried out a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers even before his office received the May 2022 subpoena. Prosecutors in addition have gathered evidence indicating Trump kept classified documents in his office in a place where they were visible and sometimes showed them to others.
DEA’s Failure to Punish Distributor Blamed in Opioid Crisis Raises Revolving Door Questions
MSN – Jim Mustian and Joshua Goodman (Associated Press) | Published: 5/30/2023
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has allowed one of the nation’s largest wholesale drug distributors, Morris & Dickson Co., to keep shipping addictive painkillers for nearly four years after a judge recommended it be stripped of its license for its “cavalier disregard” of thousands of suspicious orders fueling the opioid crisis. A consultant the company hired to stave off punishment is now DEA Administrator Anne Milgram’s top deputy. The delay raised concerns about how the “revolving door” between government and industry may be impacting the DEA’s mission to police drug companies.
Recent Attacks Put Staffers on Edge as Authorities Look for Answers
MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 5/31/2023
There has been a string of highly publicized attacks on Capitol Hill aides that have left staff on edge and are raising questions about security, especially away from Washington. Protecting members and staff away from Washington is no small task with 535 members of Congress, many with multiple district offices that are often positioned strategically to encourage foot traffic.
Prosecutors Have Recording of Trump Discussing Sensitive Iran Document
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 5/31/2023
Special counsel Jack Smith has obtained a 2021 recording in which Donald Trump appears to brag about having a classified document related to Iran, suggesting the former president understood both the legal and security concerns around his possession of such restricted information. The audio features Trump describing a document he claims is about possibly attacking Iran, expressing a desire to share that information with others but also making some kind of acknowledgment he should not do so.
Ron DeSantis Administration Officials Solicit Campaign Cash from Lobbyists
NBC News – Matt Dixon and Jonathan Allen | Published: 5/25/2023
Officials who work for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration – not his campaign – have been sending text messages to Florida lobbyists soliciting political contributions for DeSantis’s presidential bid, a breach of traditional norms that has raised ethical and legal questions and left many here in the state capital shocked. Text messages from four officials, including those directly in the governor’s office and with leadership positions in state agencies. They requested the recipient of the message contribute to the governor’s campaign through a specific link that appeared to track who is giving as part of a “bundle” program.
Talk of Racism Proves Thorny for G.O.P. Candidates of Color
Yahoo News – Jonathan Weisman and Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 6/1/2023
In bolstering their own biographies with stories of overcoming discrimination, Republican candidates of color running for the president have put forth views about race that at times appear at odds with their view of the country – often denying the existence of a system of racism in America while describing situations that sound just like it. The clashing views of the role race plays in America are a major theme of the 2024 election, underpinning cultural battles over “wokeness.” Behind the debate over structural racism is a secondary debate over the meaning of the stories that politicians tell about themselves.
Missteps and Miscalculations: Inside Fox’s legal and business debacle
Yahoo News – Jim Rutenberg, Michael Schmidt, and Jeremy Peters (New York Times) | Published: 5/28/2023
A series of missteps and miscalculations plagued Fox Corporation’s response to Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, according to a review of court and business records and interviews. The case resulted in the largest known settlement in a defamation suit, $787.5 million; two shareholder lawsuits; and the benching of Fox’s top prime-time star, Tucker Carlson. For all of that, Fox still faces a lawsuit seeking even more in damages filed by Smartmatic, another subject of the stolen-election theory, which can now build on the evidence produced in the Dominion case to press its own considerable claims.
Feinstein, Back in the Senate, Relies Heavily on Staff to Function
Yahoo News – Annie Karni (New York Times) | Published: 5/29/2023
As Dianne Feinstein’s reclaims her seat in the U.S. Senate, she is surrounded by a retinue of staff members who serve not only the roles of typical congressional aides – advising on policy, keeping tabs on the schedule, drafting statements and speeches – but also as de facto companions to a senator whose age, frail health, and memory issues make it difficult for her to function alone. Their roles have come under more scrutiny as a number of Democrats and many of Feinstein’s constituents are increasingly concerned about her refusal to relinquish a post that she is not capable of fulfilling without heavy and constant reliance on her aides.
Aide Fired by George Santos Says He Got His Job After Sending Money to Republican’s Deputy
Yahoo News – Jake Offenhartz (Associated Press) | Published: 6/1/2023
A man who briefly worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. George Santos says he got his job after sending a series of payments to one of the Republican’s top deputies. Derek Myers told staff of the House’s ethics subcommittee during an interview that while he was trying to get a job in Santoss congressional office in late January, he sent at least seven $150 payments to Santos’ director of operations, Vish Burra. Myers said he began sending the money unsolicited because he believed Burra was not getting paid by the House at the time and could not afford food. But he said he also hoped the payments might help him secure a job.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Charity Set Up to Support Mayor’s Office Withholds Records, Collected Funds from Companies with Business Before the City
MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union-Tribune) | Published: 5/30/2023
The nonprofit For All of Us collects tens of thousands of dollars from donors to support causes embraced by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Only limited fundraising and spending records for the group are routinely disclosed. Instead, the money, board leadership, mission statement, and other information about For All of Us are mostly held confidentially. The San Diego Union-Tribune discovered the entity during a routine review of disclosures of behested payments at the recommendation of an elected official. Such contributions are only required to be disclosed by the mayor and other elected officials when donor contributions exceed $5,000 per year.
California – DWP Executive Placed on Leave Amid Questions About Outside Bitcoin Business
MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/26/2023
A top executive at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) was placed on administrative leave while the utility looks into his involvement in the bitcoin mining industry and whether he complied with ethics rules that require employees to obtain permission for outside work. John Chen was placed on leave after The Los Angeles Times asked the DWP about Chen’s ventures, according to a source at the utility.
California – Court Upholds California’s Anti-Pay-to-Play Law Barring Votes Benefiting Campaign Contributors
SiliconValley.com – Jason Henry (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) | Published: 5/26/2023
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge rejected a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law prohibiting elected officials from voting on matters involving the people and companies who contribute to their campaigns. Judge Richard Sueyoshi determined the law, which went into effect in January, does not violate either the state or federal constitutions. Senate Bill 1439 requires public office holders to recuse themselves from votes and discussions involving anyone who has contributed more than $250 to their campaigns.
Connecticut – Former Connecticut Lawmaker Gets 27 Months in Prison for Stealing Coronavirus Aid
Associated Press News – Dave Collins | Published: 5/31/2023
Former Connecticut Rep. Michael DiMassa was sentenced to 27 months in prison for stealing more than $1.2 million from the city of West Haven, most of it in federal coronavirus-related aid, and using a portion of it to fuel his gambling addiction. At the time of the thefts, he was both a state representative and an aide to the West Haven City Council, with authority to approve reimbursements for coronavirus-related expenses. DiMassa admitted he and others billed West Haven for legal, lobbying, and consulting services that were never provided.
Connecticut – Connecticut Senate Passes Bill Prohibiting Utilities from Charging Ratepayers for Political Activities
Energy and Policy Institute – David Pomerantz | Published: 5/29/2023
The Connecticut Senate passed legislation that would prohibit investor-owned utilities from charging customers for lobbying, trade association dues, public relations expenses, and efforts to argue for rate increases. If the House passes the bill, Connecticut would join Colorado as the second state this year to pass legislation addressing utilities’ ability to fund their political machines from customers’ rates.
Florida – Ethics Commission Is Investigating Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s Work for a Developer
MSN – Joey Flechas and Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/25/2023
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has opened an investigation into Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s work for developer Rishi Kapoor, following a Miami Herald report that Kapoor’s corporate documents show he sought the mayor’s help to resolve issues involving critical permits for a $70 million project. The ethics commission review is being done in coordination with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office. Internal meeting notes document that Kapoor met with Suarez and the city manager to “discuss the permitting problems” last summer. Internal financial statements show Kapoor paid Suarez at least $170,000 since 2021.
Florida – North Miami Beach Mayor Arrested on Charges Related to ‘Voting Irregularities’
MSN – Raisa Habersham (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/31/2023
North Miami Beach Mayor Anthony DeFillipo was arrested and charged with three counts of voter fraud. The charges allege DeFillipo voted three times in 2022 using an address that was no longer where lived. A complaint alleged DeFillipo lived in the town of Davie in Broward County, in violation of the North Miami Beach city charter, which requires elected officials to reside in the city. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her office used cell phone data to track DeFillipo’s driving from Davie to North Miami Beach, where he cast ballots to vote in three elections in August, October, and November.
Florida – Florida Elections Officials Quietly Made It Easier for Ron DeSantis to Fund His 2024 Bid
NBC News – Matt Dixon | Published: 5/30/2023
Florida officials changed state campaign finance guidelines in a way that could allow allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis to move tens of millions of dollars to a super PAC supporting his 2024 presidential campaign, records show. For years, elections officials said such a transfer to federal super PACs would not be allowed. But in March, just months before DeSantis formally launched his bid for president, officials at the Florida Department of State, which regulates state elections, changed its handbook to assert that such moves are allowed.
Illinois – Legislature Approves Bill to Tighten Restrictions on Red-Light Camera Industry
Yahoo News – Andrew Adams (Capitol News Illinois) | Published: 5/27/2023
Illinois lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that would place new restrictions on the red-light and speed camera industry’s involvement in state and local elections and government. House Bill 3903 would ban automatic traffic enforcement companies or their officers from donating to candidates at the state and local level. It would also prevent state and local government officials from accepting jobs or contracts with those companies while in office or for two years after leaving office.
Massachusetts – Massachusetts Has Passed Just 10 Laws This Year, the Fewest to Open a Legislative Session in Decades. It’s a Sign of the Times.
MSN – Matt Stout (Boston Globe) | Published: 5/29/2023
Five months into the year, Massachusetts lawmakers have touted passing “historic funding” and holding a budget debate that has never been “smoother.” They can also lay claim to something else, a Boston Globe review found: perhaps the least productive start to a legislative session in at least 40 years. The slow start is likely historic, and, current and former Beacon Hill officials say, reflective of a Democratic-controlled body where power is overly concentrated at the top and where leaders increasingly rely on omnibus legislation to move important policy.
Michigan – As Chatfield Probe Continues, Nessel Urges Reforms to Dark Money in Politics
Detroit News – Beth LeBlanc | Published: 5/31/2023
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is urging the state Legislature to take action soon on ethics reforms, including the tightening of reporting requirements for nonprofits, as she continues investigations into lawmakers’ use of “dark money” accounts in politics. Nessel expects to have some resolution on four major public integrity cases, including two involving nonprofit organizations tied to former House Speaker Lee Chatfield and ex-Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, by the end of the year.
Nevada – Source: NLV officials met with authorities about state senator’s finances
Las Vegas Journal-Review – Briana Erickson | Published: 5/23/2023
North Las Vegas city officials met with law enforcement to discuss concerns that state Sen. Dina Neal may have used campaign funds to pay off a $20,000 lien on her home. The meeting with law enforcement took place after the Las Vegas Review-Journal requested public records from the city. The records revealed years of emails from Neal, some of which ask staff to forgive first-time Homebuyer Assistance Program loans. In at least two of those emails, Neal did not reveal she had that type of loan.
New Hampshire – Ethics Flap Over Airfare Offer to N.H. Lawmaker Referred for Criminal Review
MSN – Steven Porter (Washington Post) | Published: 5/31/2023
New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard asked the state’s top law enforcement officials to look into whether an ethics flap over an alleged offer of airfare entailed any illegal activity. Packard suggested in a letter to the Department of Justice that Robin Vogt, the lawmaker at the center of the controversy, might have committed a felony even if he rebuffed an outside offer to cover his travel expenses ahead of a high-stakes vote. That is because the law requires public officials to tell law enforcement if someone offers them a bribe, he wrote.
New York – ‘Lobbying Loophole’ Bill Stuck in Assembly in Final Week of Legislative Session
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 5/31/2023
An attempt to close a loophole in the state’s lobbying laws, which allowed for undocumented outside influence over the chief judge nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to occur, has stalled in the final week of the legislative session. The bill would require similar rules for lobbying for a judicial candidate or other state appointee as those governing the efforts to influence the enactment of laws and regulations. Many judicial nominations, including for the Court of Appeals, require approval from the state Senate but not the Assembly.
New York – Despite Hochul’s Vow, Her Policies Have Indirectly Aided Husband’s Firm
DNyuz – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 5/28/2023
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recusal policy that forbids her from using her office to help Delaware North has not stopped the governor from taking actions that could benefit the company or hurt its competitors, especially near Buffalo, Hochul’s hometown. Delaware North – which owns or manages 11 gambling venues and numerous hotels, and handles concessions at scores of stadiums, airports, and parks – employs the governor’s husband, William Hochul, as its senior vice president. In three recent cases involving matters relating to gambling or concessions, the state took actions that aligned with the interests of her husband’s company.
North Carolina – NC’s Election Ended. Then Gambling Money Showed Up in Campaign Reports, Complaint Says
Charlotte Observer – Avi Bajpai (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 5/30/2023
Donors across the video gambling industry gave North Carolina lawmakers nearly $900,000 between 2019 and 2022, according to a new complaint that alleges some of the contributions may have violated campaign finance laws. The complaint notes many of those donors are members of the North Carolina Coin Operators Association. By not registering as a PAC, the donors avoided having to disclose their fundraising activity, and skirted limits on when and how much money a PAC can give, alleges the complaint.
Ohio – As Borges Delay Is Denied, Former FirstEnergy Execs Say ‘No Doubt’ the Feds Are After Them
Ohio Capital Journal – Marty Schladen | Published: 5/26/2023
Judges denied two delays in recent days that would have been key to a bribery and money laundering scandal that took place in Ohio between 2017 to 2020. Denial of a delay in one court case means a player will still be sentenced in June. In denying the other, the judge in that case agreed with two former FirstEnergy executives who said federal law enforcement has them in its crosshairs. But she ordered that they be questioned under oath anyway.
Ohio – Ex-Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Pastor Agrees to Plead Guilty in Public Corruption Case
WCPO – Taylor Weiter and Paula Christian | Published: 5/30/2023
Former Cincinnati City Councilperson Jeff Pastor agreed to plead guilty to honor services wire fraud in his public corruption case. In addition to wire fraud, a federal grand jury charged Pastor with bribery, attempted extortion, money laundering, and conspiracy. He was accused of taking $55,000 in bribes and a luxury weekend trip to Miami on a private plane in exchange for votes on two development deals.
Pennsylvania – Philly’s Ethics Board Usually Flies Under the Radar. That Changed with Its Lawsuit Against a Super PAC Backing Jeff Brown
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 5/27/2023
The 2023 Democratic primary for mayor of Philadelphia was just the second open mayor’s race since the advent of super PACs, independent committees that can raise money in amounts that exceed the city’s contribution limits so long as they do not coordinate with candidates. The board ended up spending much of its time dealing with one super PAC, For a Better Philadelphia, which raised about $3 million to boost Jeff Brown in the mayor’s race. The board’s investigation into the group exposed to scrutiny the choices of the agency that plays a role in every election but is often invisible to voters.
Pennsylvania – A DuBois Official Was Arrested on Corruption Charges. Then Nearly $100K in Cash Arrived at City Hall.
Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis and Min Xian | Published: 5/30/2023
In May, DuBois’ solicitor showed up at City Hall with $93,920 in cash tucked inside a cardboard box and packaged in a gift bag. Toni Cherry pulled Interim City Manager Chris Nasuti and Police Chief Blaine Clark out of a meeting. According to Nasuti, she handed the gift bag to the two men and told them the cash belonged to the city. She advised them to deposit the money and did not explain why or how it came into her possession. Nasuti and Clark put the cash into a new bank account and alerted the state attorney general’s office. The bag full of cash is now at the center of another storm in a community already reeling from a corruption scandal.
Texas – Texas Republicans Pass Voting Bills Targeting Large Democratic County
MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 5/28/2023
Texas Republicans wound down their regular legislative session by changing election policies for a single populous Democratic stronghold but not in other parts of the state. The measure gives the secretary of state under certain conditions the power to run elections in Harris County, home to Houston and 4.8 million residents. It follows a bill approved days earlier that shifts the oversight of elections from its appointed elections administrator to the county clerk and county assessor. Harris County officials said they would bring a lawsuit challenging the measures as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott signs them into law.
Texas – Texas AG Ken Paxton Impeached, Suspended from Duties; Will Face Senate
Texas Tribune – Zach Despart and James Barragán | Published: 5/27/2023
The Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton, suspending him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office. The vote revealed substantial divisions within the Texas GOP. Although the party has won every statewide election for a quarter-century and has controlled both houses of the Legislature since 2003, it has deep underlying fissures. The Senate will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.
May 26, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 26, 2023
National/Federal Chief Justice John Roberts Defends Supreme Court’s ‘Highest Standards of Conduct,’ Offers No New Rules ABC News – Devin Dwyer | Published: 5/24/2023 Chief Justice John Roberts defended the integrity of the Supreme Court in the face of slumping public approval […]
Chief Justice John Roberts Defends Supreme Court’s ‘Highest Standards of Conduct,’ Offers No New Rules
ABC News – Devin Dwyer | Published: 5/24/2023
Chief Justice John Roberts defended the integrity of the Supreme Court in the face of slumping public approval and growing political pressure after a recent barrage of misconduct allegations. It was the first time Roberts directly addressed growing concern about how the justices handle potential conflicts-of-interest with their personal lives, a topic that has gotten renewed attention amid a series of alleged ethical infringements by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Rioter Pictured with Foot on Desk in Speaker’s Offices Gets 4½ Years
MSN – Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2023
The U.S. Capitol rioter who was photographed with his foot propped on a desk in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offices and then tried to make money with the image was sentenced to four-and-one-half years in prison. The photograph of Richard Barnett in Pelosi’s suite of offices in 2021 became one of the defining images of the insurrection. Barnett carried a walking stick with a 950,000-volt stun device into the Capitol along with a 10-pound metal flagpole and menaced police with them, prosecutors said, but he did not assault any officers.
Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers Leader, Sentenced to 18 Years in Jan. 6 Case
MSN – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 5/25/2023
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his conviction on seditious conspiracy charges for the role he played in helping to mobilize the pro-Trump attack on the U. S. Capitol. The sentence was the most severe penalty so far in any of the more than 1,000 criminal cases stemming from the insurrection and the first to be increased for fitting the legal definition of terrorism. It was also the first to have been given to any of the 10 members of the Oath Keepers and another far-right group, the Proud Boys, who were convicted of sedition.
Tim Scott Begins Presidential Campaign, Adding to List of Trump Challengers
MSN – Jonathan Weisman and Maya King (New York Times) | Published: 5/22/2023
Tim Scott, the first Black Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from the South since Reconstruction, announced his campaign for president, bringing an aspirational message to a growing field of Republicans running as alternatives to Donald Trump. Scott enters the primary field having amassed $22 million in fundraising and having attracted veteran political operatives to work on his behalf. But his message of hope and inclusion may not resonate among base Republican voters steeped in Trump’s demands for vengeance, and the field of Republicans is about to grow far more crowded.
Crow Sidesteps Panel’s Questions About Gifts to Clarence Thomas
MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 5/23/2023
A billionaire Republican donor brushed off questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas, in a letter that argues the panel did not have the authority to investigate the lavish gifts he provided to the member of the U.S. Supreme Court. An attorney for Harlan Crow told the committee Crow did not have to answer questions about reports Thomas did not disclose that Crow had provided luxury vacations for the justice, bought property from him and paid for a relative’s private education.
Ron DeSantis’s 2024 Kickoff on Twitter Is Plagued by Technical Issues
MSN – Hannah Knowles and Faiz Siddiqui (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2023
Ron DeSantis and his allies worked to build momentum ahead of a long-expected presidential campaign launch, rolling out endorsements, sleek videos, and the image of an alligator lurking just beneath the water on his campaign website. But the novel Twitter Spaces announcement with Elon Musk that the Florida governor’s team had hyped as the culmination of his big day was plagued by glitches. The live chat came to a halt after roughly 20 minutes of mostly silence; by the time it restarted and DeSantis began his remarks, hundreds of thousands of listeners had peeled off. It was an awkward start to a campaign that had already hit numerous roadblocks.
House Votes to Refer Santos Matter to Ethics Panel
MSN – Lindsay McPherson (Roll Call) | Published: 5/17/2023
The House voted to refer a resolution from Democrats that would expel U.S. Rep. George Santos to the Committee on Ethics. Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended the move as providing Santos with “due process.” Santos was indicted on 13 federal criminal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making false statements to the House. Expelling Santos would put a dent in the GOP’s narrow four-seat majority until a special election can be held. Another Republican victory there would not be guaranteed.
School Librarians Face a New Penalty in the Banned-Book Wars: Prison
MSN – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2023
Librarians could face years of imprisonment and tens of thousands in fines for providing sexually explicit, obscene, or “harmful” books to children under new state laws that permit criminal prosecution of school and library personnel. At least seven states have passed such laws in the last two years. Another dozen states considered more than 20 similar bills this year. Some educators and activists say the laws will forge a climate of fear among school librarians, spurring the censorship of books by and about LGBTQ individuals even as the nation already faces a historic onslaught of challenges to books in those categories.
Sen. Feinstein’s Health Complications from Shingles More Severe Than Disclosed
MSN – Liz Goodwin and Carolyn Johnson (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2023
Sen. Dianne Feinstein returned to Washington after having suffered more severe health complications from her shingles diagnosis than were previously disclosed. Feinstein’s shingles triggered encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain, as well as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which causes facial paralysis. She returned to the Senate after facing pressure to resign from a few members of Congress and California progressive groups, who complained her months-long absence was slowing judicial confirmations and imperiling the Democratic agenda.
Meet the Influential New Player on Transgender Health Bills
Yahoo News – Jeff McMillan and Kimberlee Kruesi (Associated Press) | Published: 5/20/2023
Do No Harm, a nonprofit that launched last year to oppose diversity initiatives in medicine, has evolved into a significant leader in statehouses seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, producing model legislation that has been used in at least three states. Do No Harm organized as a charitable organization whose tax-exempt status would be endangered by substantial lobbying. In March, after the group had already made significant inroads in Legislatures with its model bill, lobbyists, and hearing witnesses, it incorporated Do No Harm Action as a separate nonprofit with a tax status that allows for more lobbying,
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Groups Settle Arizona Lawsuit Over Voter Intimidation at Ballot Boxes
MSN – Daniel Gilbert (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2023
An Arizona group that monitored ballot drop boxes for signs of fraud during the midterm elections settled a lawsuit and agreed to “publicly condemn intimidation of any kind in connection with the exercise of the right to vote,” according to the League of Women Voters of Arizona, which had filed the suit. The drop boxes, intended to provide a secure, convenient place to submit ballots, have become a symbol of mistrust in elections among many supporters of Donald Trump.
Arizona – Judge Dismisses Kari Lake’s Final Claim in Election Loss for Arizona Governor
Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 5/21/2023
A judge dismissed the only remaining legal claim in Kari Lake’s challenge of her loss in last year’s race for Arizona governor, affirming the election of Katie Hobbs. Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson said Lake failed to prove her claim that Maricopa County did not verify signatures on mail ballots as required by law. Lake faced a high bar in proving not only her allegation over signature verification efforts but also that it affected the outcome of her race.
California – 49ers’ Former Lobbyist Emerges as Key Witness in Anthony Becker Perjury Case
MSN – Lance Williams and Ron Kroichick (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 5/19/2023
The former chief lobbyist for the San Francisco 49ers testified Santa Clara City Councilperson Anthony Becker illegally leaked a confidential report criticizing the team’s political influence. Rahul Chandhok told a grand jury that Becker gave him a confidential copy of a watchdog agency’s report accusing the 49ers of having undue influence over government in Santa Clara, home of publicly owned Levi’s Stadium. Becker is charged with one felony count of perjury and one misdemeanor count of failing to perform his official duty.
Connecticut – Consultant on New London Pier Project Fined for Ethics Violations – Again
WSHU – Brian Scott-Smith | Published: 5/19/2023
The Connecticut Office of State Ethics fined Seabury Maritime $10,000 for violating the state’s lobbying law. It lobbied from 2017 to 2019 to gain contracts and other business from the Connecticut Port Authority, a quasi-public agency. Seabury spent over $3,000 in lobbying each year, which triggered a requirement for them to register their activity, which they failed to do. The company also did not complete any financial disclosures as required.
Florida – Developer Paid Miami’s Mayor $170K to Push His Project, Company Records State
MSN – Joey Flechas, Jay Weaver, and Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/23/2023
Internal company records provide details, for the first time, of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s private work for the development firm Location Ventures while he held public office. The company paid Suarez at least $170,000 over the past two years to help secure permits for a stalled real estate project, raising legal and ethical questions about the relationship between his role as mayor and his job as a developer’s consultant.
Florida – DeSantis Signs Bill That Makes His Presidential Run Easier
MSN – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 5/24/2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed a threat to his campaign for president by signing into law a measure that makes it clear he does not have to resign his current position as governor. The change to Florida’s resign-to-run law was part of a larger overall elections bill that has drawn the scorn of Democrats and voting rights groups who have labeled it “voter suppression.” Two lawsuits were immediately filed in federal court challenging the law.
Florida – Florida Senator Sued by His Family Business for ‘Embezzling’ Money
Yahoo News – Lawrence Mower (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 5/22/2023
State Sen. Nick DiCeglie is being sued by his cousins and his family trash collection business for allegedly spending tens of thousands of the company’s dollars on political expenses, travel, and a personal loan. In two lawsuits, DiCeglie is accused of “embezzling” money while he was president of Solar Sanitation. DiCeglie has agreed to pay back some of the money, including $120,000 in loans from the company. But he said the political spending was to further the company’s business, which relies on contracts with local governments in Pinellas County.
Georgia – Book Removals May Have Violated Student Civil Rights, Education Dept. Says
MSN – Hannah Natanson and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 5/22/2023
In a move that could affect how schools handle book challenges, the federal government has concluded a Georgia school district’s removal of titles with Black and LGBTQ characters may have created a “hostile environment” for students, potentially violating their civil rights. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights investigated Forsyth County Schools’ 2022 decision to pull nearly a dozen books from shelves after parents complained of titles’ sexual and LGBTQ content. To resolve the investigation, the district agreed to offer “supportive measures” to students affected by the book removals and to administer a school climate survey.
Illinois – Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s Girlfriend, Ex-Business Partners and City Employee’s Husband Awarded Thousands in Taxpayer-Funded Grants
WTTW – Nick Blumberg | Published: 5/18/2023
The Aurora City Council has awarded dozens of taxpayer-funded business grants to local businesses in recent months. The owners of two of the companies are in personal relationships with top city officials. A majority of recent donations to Mayor Richard Irvin’s campaign fund are from people doing business with or getting incentives from the city, The council approved a $10,000 grant to Laura’s Furniture, owned by Laura Ayala-Clarke. Sources have described her as Irvin’s girlfriend.
Illinois – Under Pressure on Ethics, Illinois Lawmakers Consider Tightened Rules on Red-Light Camera Industry
Yahoo News – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/24/2023
Facing pressure to bolster state ethics laws following the recent bribery convictions of former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists, Illinois lawmakers have turned their attention to another branch of a corruption investigation: the red-light camera industry. A bill approved in the Senate seeks to place new guardrails around an industry that has been at the center of multiple federal probes that have ensnared a host of state, county, and local officials, including two state senators.
Kansas – Kansas Ethics Commission to Evaluate Factors Influencing Waiver of Campaign Finance Penalties
KPVI – Tim Carpenter | Published: 5/25/2023
At a recent meeting, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission voted to waive fines against the Geary County Republican Central Committee’s treasurer along with penalties against the treasurer of the defunct Prairie Roots PAC and a lobbyist with Kansans for Life. Others appealing campaign finance penalties had their fines upheld. The hit-or-miss voting on appeals led to discussion of how commission members placed their fingers on the scale to either enforce or waive penalties.
Kentucky – Agency Fines Alison Grimes $10,000 for Handling of Voter Data as KY Secretary of State
Yahoo News – John Cheves (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 5/19/2023
Alison Lundergan Grimes must pay $10,000 in fines for improperly ordering the downloading and distribution of voter registration data from her office while she was Kentucky’s secretary of state. The Lexington Herald-Leader and ProPublica published a series of stories on her improper use of the Voter Registration System. They also showed how Grimes pushed through a no-bid contract with a company owned by a campaign donor.
Louisiana – New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Office Sought to Avoid Public Disclosure Rules for Anti-Recall Mailer
NOLA.com – John Stanton | Published: 5/23/2023
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration circumvented city public bidding rules to hire a public relations firm with apparent ties to one of her top advisors to defend her record as mayor in the waning days of a failed recall effort. Documents turned over to the city council under a subpoena, provide the clearest picture yet into the development of a potentially illegal taxpayer-funded mailer sent to likely voters in the week before the recall petition deadline, and the lengths to which top Cantrell officials went to obscure their work on it.
Maryland – Treasurer for Baltimore County Campaign Committees Pleads Guilty to Stealing Funds
Maryland Daily Record – Madeline O’Neill | Published: 5/25/2023
William McCollum, the treasurer for a powerful Baltimore County political slate, pleaded guilty Thursday to theft and perjury charges, admitting to stealing campaign funds from the group and from a former county councilperson’s finance committee. The charges alleged McCollum embezzled nearly $100,000 from the Friends of Cathy Bevins fund for his personal benefit. Prosecutors said McCollum used campaign money to travel with a romantic partner while in Puerto Rico and for flights to Palm Beach, Florida, and Iceland. He did not disclose those expenditures on campaign finance reports.
Massachusetts – Calls for Arroyo to Step Down from Boston City Council after Rollins Investigation
WBUR – Walter Wuthmann | Published: 5/19/2023
At least one Boston city councilor and a conservative advocacy group are calling for Councilor Ricardo Arroyo to resign following the release of two federal investigations tying him to alleged election meddling by former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins. The reports found Rollins attempted to influence the race for Suffolk County district attorney in 2022 by leaking negative information about interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden to help Arroyo, her preferred successor to the office. The Department of Justice report contains 299 mentions of Arroyo and includes portions of 380 private texts and encrypted chats between him and Rollins over two months.
Mississippi – Chris McDaniel’s Reports Deny Accurate Public Accounting of Campaign Money
Mississippi Today – Geoff Pender | Published: 5/18/2023
After six campaign finance filings – including amended, termination-amended, and even one the-computer-temporarily-ate-it reports – it is still unclear exactly how much money longtime Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel has raised or now has for his lieutenant governor campaign. McDaniel’s reports for his campaign and a PAC he created last year have been confusing and confounding, at times leaving voters in the dark on the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars and continuing to contain double-reported donations and amounts and dates that do not add up.
Nebraska – A Year After Scandal, Nebraska Legislature Revises Its Workplace Harassment Policy
Omaha World-Herald – Erin Bamer | Published: 5/17/2023
Over a year after a scandal rocked the Nebraska Legislature, lawmakers adopted a handful of changes to its workplace harassment policy, although some say there is still more work to be done. The changes were developed after the revelation that ex-Sen. Mike Groene took photos of a former female staff member without her knowledge. Soon after, Groene resigned from the Legislature, and a later investigation found his conduct was “boorish, brainless and bizarre,” although not unlawful.
New York – Trump Makes Video Appearance in New York Criminal Case, Trial Date Tentatively Set for Late March
Associated Press News – Michael Sisak | Published: 5/23/2023
Donald Trump threw up his hands in frustration as a judge scheduled his criminal trial for March 25, putting the former president and current candidate in a Manhattan courtroom in the heat of next year’s presidential primary season. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records at his family company, the Trump Organization. Trump often discusses the cases at his rallies and in other speeches and has repeatedly attacked prosecutors and judges by name. At the hearing, the judge reviewed an order barring Trump from publicly disseminating certain evidence turned over by prosecutors.
New York – Supreme Court Tosses Convictions of Cor Development Executives Steve Aiello and Joe Gerardi
MSN – Tim Knauss (Syracuse Post-Standard) | Published: 5/22/2023
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of business executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who were accused of bid-rigging and other crimes related to state development projects. The ruling was expected due to the court’s rulings in two related cases. Alain Kaloyeros, a former economic development official in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also had his conviction formally set aside. Aiello and Gerardi, executives at Cor Development Co., were convicted of conspiring with Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
New York – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s Brothers Run Lobbying Firm with Biz Before City
MSN – Carl Campanile (New York Post) | Published: 5/22/2023
Two brothers of Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano run a lobbying firm with clients that have had business before the city during the mayor’s tenure, including with the agency that doles out tax breaks and is chaired by him, records show. Empire Strategic Planning (ESP) was founded by Nick Spano, a former state senator. John Spano is on ESP’s executive team. Mayor Spano and his siblings-led firm said it lobbies on these clients’ behalf in Albany, not Yonkers City Hall.
New York – Lobbyists Fundraise for Adams 2021 Campaign
NY1 – Courtney Gross | Published: 5/23/2023
Documents show lobbyists raised money for Eric Adams in his 2021 race to be New York City mayor, fundraising that has not been reported previously. Adams’ campaign never reported any of these lobbyists as bundlers or intermediaries with the city’s campaign finance board. By law, campaigns must report who collects donations for their campaigns.
North Dakota – Lame-Duck North Dakota Lawmakers Roamed to Faraway Conferences on the Taxpayers’ Dime
Bismarck Tribune – Jeremy Turley (Forum News Service) | Published: 5/23/2023
Since 2014, the North Dakota Legislature has spent more than $45,000 to send a dozen retiring and defeated lawmakers to out-of-state conferences. Some of the departing lawmakers served on interstate policy boards and were expected to show up to faraway meetings, but others went to conferences that could have been attended by any of their colleagues who planned to remain in the Legislature. Sen. Ray Holmberg, Holmberg, who attended more out-of-state trips than any of his peers since 2013, also signed off on his own travel during the time he served as chairperson of Legislative Management, an interim panel of top lawmakers.
Oregon – Before Oregon Elections Officials Slashed Democratic Party’s Fine, State Lawyer Blasted Party’s ‘Lackluster’ Efforts to Find True Source of $500K Donation
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 5/23/2023
Two weeks before Oregon elections officials greatly reduced a fine against the state Democratic Party for falsely reporting the source of its largest ever campaign donation, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Gleim criticized the party, calling its efforts to correctly identify the donor “lackluster.” Gleim also said the Elections Division had no authority to reduce a resulting $35,000 fine on the party, which was determined solely on the size of the contribution donation and the number of days the party was tardy in reporting the donor.
Pennsylvania – Allegheny County Council Approves Campaign Finance Regulations
WESA – Julia Zenkevich | Published: 5/24/2023
The Allegheny County Council passed a bill that would impose FEC contribution guidelines on candidates for county offices. Those guidelines are adjusted for inflation every two years, but individual contributions are currently capped at $3,300, while PACs can give $5,000 per election cycle. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said he would likely veto the bill. He said campaign finance limits should come from the state Legislature.
Texas – Texas Pushes Church into State with Bills on School Chaplains, Ten Commandments
MSN – Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2023
Texas lawmakers were scheduled to vote on whether to require the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom in the state, part of a newly energized national effort to insert religion into public life. Supporters believe the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a high school football coach who prayed with players essentially removed any guardrails between religion and government. The legislation is one of about a half-dozen religion bills approved this session by the state Senate.
Texas – Investigators Detail Years of Alleged Misconduct by Texas AG Ken Paxton in Stunning House Committee Hearing
MSN – Zach Despart and James Barragán (Texas Tribune) | Published: 5/24/2023
A Texas House committee heard testimony that state Attorney General Ken Paxton may have violated multiple state laws and ethics rules during a hearing that summarized its months-long investigation. The testimony came a day after Paxton called for Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, accusing him of being “intoxicated” while presiding over the House recently. One area of the inquiry focused on a proposed $3.3 million agreement to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four high-ranking deputies who were fired after accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.
Virginia – In N. Virginia, Endorsement Primaries Point to Increasingly Politicized School Boards
MSN – Karina Elwood (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2023
As Harold Sims Jr. knocked on doors for his school board campaign, many of the Northern Virginia residents on the other side did not know there was an election in May. Sims was not campaigning for the general election or primary that most voters are familiar with. He was door knocking, along with fundraising and debating other candidates to win the local Democratic Party’s endorsement. School board races in Virginia, like most of the country, are nonpartisan. But for years, local political parties around the state have endorsed school board candidates to signal to voters which candidates match their political ideology.
Virginia – A Republican Lawmaker Delivered Doughnuts to Teachers. Then Came a Political Food Fight
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/23/2023
Virginia Del. Amanda Batten bought almost 1,000 doughnuts to give to public school teachers in her Williamsburg-area district. The doughnut deliveries to 19 schools were accepted. But in a sign of the intensity of Virginia’s political debates over K-12 public schools, some in the system saw an ulterior motive in the gifts. A photo showed a doughnut-box label with a line in smaller print: “Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Amanda Batten.” That phrase signals an activity was funded by money from a political campaign. The pushback was so strong school officials told Batten similar doughnut drop offs would be declined due to their “political nature.”
Virginia – Though Critiques Persist, Many Agree Virginia’s New Political Maps Are ‘Quite Balanced’
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/17/2023
As Virginia enters a high-stakes General Assembly election year, the first playing out on electoral maps drawn by outside experts rather than incumbent legislators, many lawmakers, advocates, and experts agree it looks like a fair fight, with neither party getting an undue advantage based on political geography alone. Despite fears that the new redistricting process could lead to backsliding in minority representation, a look at the field of candidates running this year indicates the Legislature elected on the new maps will be more diverse, not less.
West Virginia – Democrats Sue W.Va. Gov. Justice Over Refusal to Disclose Work Schedule
MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2023
Democrats sued West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, for refusing to release his work schedule as governor in response to public records request seeking to show a continued pattern of absenteeism. The move by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee follows months of back and forth with Justice’s office over whether disclosure of the records is required under West Virginia law. Such requests are a typical part of opposition research conducted by campaigns and political parties.
May 19, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 19, 2023
National/Federal Durham Finds Fault with F.B.I. Over Russia Inquiry DNyuz – Charlie Savage, Glenn Thrush, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 5/15/2023 John Durham, the Trump-era special counsel who has pursued a politically fraught investigation into the Russia […]
Durham Finds Fault with F.B.I. Over Russia Inquiry
DNyuz – Charlie Savage, Glenn Thrush, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 5/15/2023
John Durham, the Trump-era special counsel who has pursued a politically fraught investigation into the Russia inquiry, accused the FBI of having “discounted or willfully ignored material information” that countered the narrative of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. Durham’s final report revealed little substantial new information about the inquiry, known as Crossfire Hurricane, and it failed to produce the kinds of revelations accusing the bureau of politically motivated misconduct that Trump and his allies suggested Durham would uncover.
Former Hawaii Executives Plead Guilty to Sending Illegal Donations to US Sen. Susan Collins
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 5/15/2023
Clifford Chen and Lawrence Lum Kee. two former executives of a Hawaii-based defense contractor, recently pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins during her 2020 bid for reelection. Chen and Lum Kee used company funds to donate large sums of money to Collins’ reelection, including through a shell company meant to mask their identity when sending $150,000 to a pro-Collins super PAC. They also recruited family members to donate thousands of dollars directly to Collins’ campaign.
How Kyrsten Sinema Uses Campaign Cash for Her Marathon Habit
MSN – Sam Brodey (Daily Beast) | Published: 5/14/2023
When U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an avid marathoner and triathlete, ran the Boston Marathon last year, it was a proud moment she wanted to publicize. “It’s been a long road to get here,: Sinema tweeted, along with photos of her running and celebrating the finish. Far less publicized, however, was another aspect to Sinema’s long-awaited journey to Boston: she appears to have turned it into a fundraising junket, allowing her campaign to cover the thousands of dollars in expenses she would have incurred herself by traveling to the race.
Supreme Court to Review House Oversight Lawsuit from 2017
MSN – Michael Macagnone and Ryan Tarinelli (Roll Call) | Published: 5/15/2023
The Supreme Court will decide whether lawmakers can turn to the courts when the federal government denies them documents, as members of an oversight committee did when they sought information about the former Trump International Hotel in Washington. The case centers on a law that gives any seven members of what was then called the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the right to request information from the federal government, which is separate from the typical authority of the panel’s majority to do so. A decision could reshape the ability of the minority party in Congress to oversee the federal government.
CNN Leadership Under Fire After ‘Disastrous’ Trump Town Hall
MSN – Paul Farhi and Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023
CNN’s prime-time broadcast of a raucous town hall with Donald Trump propelled a tsunami of criticism from inside and outside the network and renewed questions about how the news media will handle the challenge of covering the serial falsehoods of the Republican Party’s leading candidate going into the 2024 election. The main impact may be the damage done to the reputation of the network. It also raised questions about the future prospects of chief executive Chris Licht, who is charged with striking a more neutral tone at a cable channel that exploded with impassioned commentary during the Trump years.
George Santos Confesses to Theft in Brazil to Avoid Prosecution
MSN – Terrence McCoy, Marina Dias, and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023
Rep. George Santos signed a deal with Brazilian prosecutors in which he confessed to theft and agreed to pay restitution and fines if prosecutors agree to drop the criminal case against him, bringing a likely resolution in a case that has tailed the embattled politician for more than a decade. Santos was given 30 days to pay around $2,000 in fines and $2,800 to the victim. The deal means Santos will not have to fight criminal prosecution in two countries.
Did Jan. 6 Defendants Act ‘Corruptly’? An Appeals Court Weighs the Question.
MSN – Tom Jackman and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/11/2023
When analyzing the prosecutions of rioters at the U.S. Capitol, some defense lawyers have zeroed in on a key word in the law used to charge many defendants: “corruptly.” The law requires proof that the defendants acted corruptly in obstructing the electoral vote certification. But the exact definition of what it means to be corrupt was at question as judges for an appeals court weighing whether a law used to secure felony convictions against more than 100 participants in the attack is being appropriately applied.
How to Raise $89 Million in Small Donations – and Make It Disappear
Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold and Tiff Fehr (New York Times) | Published: 5/16/2023
A group of five linked nonprofits have exploited thousands of donors in ways that have been hidden until now by a blizzard of filings, lax oversight, and a blind spot in the campaign finance system. Since 2014, the groups have pulled in $89 million from small-dollar donors who were pitched on building political support for police officers, veterans, and firefighters. But just one percent of the money they raised was used to help candidates via donations, ads, or targeted get-out-the-vote messages, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
From the States and Municipalities
Canada – Ford Government Defeats Attempt to Get Tough on Gift-Giving After Controversial Party and Wedding
Toronto Star – Bob Fergiuson | Published: 5/11/2023
A bill that would have changed Ontario’s conflict-of-interest rules after developers attended a stag-and-doe party and wedding for one of Premier Doug Ford’s daughters has been blocked. The bill would have amended the Members’ Integrity Act to make it clear members of the legislative assembly should not take gifts that could lead to the appearance of a conflict.
California – Should Nonprofits Have to Register as Lobbyists in Long Beach? Ethics Commission Still Debating
Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 5/12/2023
As the Long Beach Ethics Commission continues to tweak its recommendations to tighten the city’s lobbying laws, nonprofits are arguing they should remain exempt from registering as lobbyists to avoid a chilling effect on their advocacy. The commission met recently to discuss some new changes it is considering to a proposal from earlier this year when they signaled that they may do away with rules that exempted nonprofits from the lobbying ordinance. The proposal now includes “advocacy” as a form of lobbying, but a rule to make groups like business improvement districts and neighborhood associations register has been dropped for now.
California – Developer Fined $4 Million for Bribing Former L.A. Councilmember Jose Huizar
MSN – Michael Finnegan (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/12/2023
A Chinese real estate company was fined $4 million for the bribes its owner paid former Los Angeles City Councilperson Jose Huizar as it sought approval to build a downtown skyscraper. U.S. District Court Judge John Walter, who has presided over a series of City Hall graft cases, bemoaned “the crushing weight of corruption” as he imposed the sentence on Shen Zhen New World I. At the company’s criminal trial, witnesses detailed more than $1 million in bribes paid to Huizar, much of it through all-expense-paid trips to Las Vegas.
California – Oakland Ethics Commission Reckons with ‘Devastating’ Budget Proposal
Oaklandside – Eli Wolfe | Published: 5/11/2023
The Oakland Public Ethics Commission has laid out in stark terms how the proposed city budget will affect its operations. Commission staff said the budget would remove funding for the Democracy Dollars program, which aims to level the city’s campaign finance landscape by giving vouchers to voters to support candidates. With only a modest budget increase, the commission also will not be able to hire additional staff for its overburdened enforcement program. Due to a prolonged staffing shortage, the enforcement chief said he must put half the city’s existing ethics cases on hold indefinitely.
Connecticut – Sullivan Sentenced to 6 Months in Prison for Lavish 2015 Kentucky Derby, Golf Trips
Yahoo News – Claire Bessette (New London Day) | Published: 5/17/2023
James Sullivan, a former chairperson of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, was sentenced to six months in prison for using the utilities’ money to pay for lavish trips in 2015 to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort. The jury convicted Sullivan, former cooperative executive Drew Rankin, and former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda on theft from a program receiving federal funds for the trips.
Florida – Miami Mayor Suarez’s Big VIP Weekend Was Worth $30K. And He Still Won’t Say Who Paid
MSN – Sarah Blaskey (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/17/2023
For the second year in a row, Mayor Francis Suarez made the rounds to lavish parties during the recent Formula One race in Miami, where hosts tied to local lobbying efforts waived cover charges for elected officials. If Suarez paid the cover for each event he and his wife attended, their Grand Prix weekend would have cost well over $30,000. Suarez would not say who paid for his weekend, nor did he file a quarterly report disclosing sponsors behind a similar tour of the party circuit he made last year, as is legally required when an elected official receives complimentary admissions or free tickets from anyone outside of their immediate family.
Georgia – Republican Tapped to Lead Fulton Elections Board Withdraws Under Pressure
MSN – Amy Gardner, Matthew Brown, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 5/17/2023
An Atlanta Republican withdrew his nomination to lead the elections board of Georgia’s most populous county after voting-rights activists and national Democrats, including the state’s two U.S. senators, lobbied to block the appointment. Lee Morris’s appointment would have given Republicans a majority on the Board of Registrations and Elections in a county that forms the core of metropolitan Atlanta and is governed by a majority-Democrat commission.
Illinois – Exelon Is Paying the Legal Tab for Two Former Executives Convicted in ComEd Bribery Scheme
WBEZ – Doug McKinney | Published: 5/15/2023
Exelon has been paying the legal fees for two now-convicted former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) executives who were part of a conspiracy to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. ComEd spokesperson Shannon Breymaier noted a section of Exelon’s bylaws that specifies current and former directors and officers of the company and its affiliates qualify to have their legal costs covered in criminal cases so long as the charged were acting in “good faith” and did not believe they were engaging in criminal behavior.
Kansas – What’s in the Bag? Kansas Lobbying Expenditure
KSNT – Colter Robinson | Published: 5/17/2023
Last year, 165 “gift bags” were given to Kansas lawmakers. In Kansas, expenses related to lobbying must be reported. In 2022, a total of $287,252.76 in spending was reported. Of the total amount, only $75,209.63 was itemized. The annual lobbyist expenditure report must include the costs for items such as food and beverages, gifts, and entertainment. The purpose of the items must be documented.
Kentucky – Trump-Backed Daniel Cameron to Face Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in November
Associated Press News – Bruce Schreiner | Published: 5/17/2023
Daniel Cameron won the Republican primary for Kentucky governor, becoming the first major-party Black nominee for governor in the state’s history and setting up a November showdown with Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. Cameron, the state’s attorney general, claimed a convincing victory over a 12-candidate field. Beshear easily dispatched two challengers in his own primary. The race now shifts to the general election, which will be one of November’s most closely watched contests and could provide clues heading into next year’s presidential election.
Louisiana – LNG Lobbyists Ghost Wrote Louisiana Officials’ Letters Supporting Gas Storage Project
Louisiana Illuminator – Sara Sneath | Published: 5/17/2023
In an effort to gain federal approval for a natural gas storage project, Sempra LNG lobbyists crafted letters for Louisiana elected officials to send to federal regulators in support of the project. Last fall, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greenlit the Hackenberry gas storage project, which involves converting underground domes constructed in the 1970s to mine for salt into storage space for natural gas. Sempra LNG has been trying to build the project in Cameron Parish since 2006.
Massachusetts – Dana Pullman Sentenced to Prison in State Police Union Kickback Case
MassLive – Tréa Lavery | Published: 5/11/2023
Dana Pullman, the former president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM), was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in a kickback scheme during his time heading the union. Anne Lynch, a lobbyist who worked with him in the scheme, will serve 24 months in prison. Lynch’s lobbying firm represented SPAM in exchange for monthly retainer payments. Prosecutors say that for six years, the two used Pullman’s position to defraud members of the union, the state, and vendors seeking to do business with the state police.
Massachusetts – Federal Watchdogs Issue Scathing Reports on U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts
Politico – Lisa Kashinsky, Josh Gerstein, and Kyle Cheney | Published: 5/17/2023
Massachusetts’ top federal prosecutor leaked sensitive Department of Justice information to a reporter as part of an effort to help an ally in a political campaign and then lied about it to investigators, a watchdog found. The finding was the most damaging in a pair of reports issued by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and another federal watchdog agency against U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who announced she would resign her position.
Massachusetts – SJC Upholds AG’s Ruling Striking Ballot Question
The Eagle-Tribune – Christian Wade | Published: 5/16/2023
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a decision by then-state Attorney General Maura Healey to reject a ballot question calling for limits on campaign spending by PACs. The justices said the case is “moot” because the proponents of the referendum did not follow the state’s timelines for gathering the required number of signatures from voters to qualify for the ballot. As such, the justices said they are showing “judicial restraint” by not resolving the matter.
Michigan – Michigan Democrats’ Early Campaign Finance Bills Bolster Union Influence
Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 5/16/2023
A committee in the Democrat-controlled Michigan House advanced bills that would help labor unions, which frequently support Democratic lawmakers’ campaigns, raise money for political contributions. Democrats won control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in 40 years in November. The new proposals would remove a ban on government bodies administering payroll deductions for political committees and would broadly allow automatic deductions to be set up for giving to labor union committees.
Michigan – 2nd Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in Medical Marijuana Corruption Scheme
MSN – Arpan Lobo (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 5/12/2023
Federal prosecutors secured the fourth guilty plea in a bribery scheme involving Michigan’s former medical cannabis licensing board. Brian Pierce said he conspired to give $42,000 and other benefits to former House Speaker Rick Johnson to help clients with license applications before the board was disbanded in 2019.
New Hampshire – Bill to Boost Political Finance Transparency Heads to Sununu’s Desk
New Hampshire Bulletin – Ethan DeWitt | Published: 5/15/2023
A bill to increase campaign finance transparency in New Hampshire is headed to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. House Bill 195 would expand which groups would count as political advocacy organizations, a designation that requires them to register with the secretary of state’s office and report receipts and expenditures. Currently, the label applies only to organizations that spend $5,000 toward advocacy for or against a candidate or party in an election cycle. The bill would lower that threshold to $2,500 or more.
New York – ‘Lobbying Loophole’ Bill After LaSalle Fight Advances Through Senate
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 5/16/2023
State Senate Democrats advanced legislation to close a “lobbying loophole” on judicial nominations and other state offices that followed undisclosed efforts earlier this year to influence votes on the selection of New York’s chief judge. The bill was introduced after an Albany Times Union story highlighted the lack of public reporting requirements for outside groups seeking to buttress or oppose a judicial nomination.
New York – U.S. Supreme Court Tosses Convictions of Percoco, Kaloyeros, Developers
Albany Times Union – Robert Gavin | Published: 5/11/2023
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out two fraud convictions during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, dealing prosecutors the latest in a series of setbacks in their efforts to pursue federal charges of public corruption in state government. The court unanimously overturned the bid-rigging convictions of SUNY Polytechnic Institute founder Alain Kaloyeros and three businesspeople while also reversing the fraud-related conviction of Joseph Percoco, the once powerful top aide to Cuomo.
New York – Head of NYC Campaign Finance Board Resigns Six Months After Taking Job
Gothamist – Brigid Bergin | Published: 5/16/2023
The head of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is stepping down from her post just six months after taking the job. Beth Rotman became the agency’s third executive director when she took the position in October. She cited personal reasons for departing her new role so soon. The former executive director, Amy LoPrest, will serve as the interim director of the program until the CFB completes its search for a new executive director.
New York – Eric Adams’ Transition Fined Nearly $20K by Campaign Finance Board
The City – Katie Honan | Published: 5/15/2023
The Campaign Finance Board hit New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team with nearly $20,000 in penalties for violations related to the weeks in between 2021’s election and his January 2022 inauguration. The board voted to approve $19,600 in fines for three violations, finding the account for Adams transition and inauguration committee accepted prohibited donations, failed to respond or responded late to requests for information or documentation, and failed to properly wind down “transition and inauguration expense” activities.
Ohio – Ohio Lawmakers Vote to Set Aug. 8 Election for Controversial 60% Constitutional Amendment Proposal
MSN – Andrew Tobias and Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 5/10/2023
Ohio lawmakers passed a resolution asking voters to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments. The vote caps off nearly six months of legislative wrangling largely meant to hobble an abortion rights amendment. Lawmakers are entering questionable legal territory, however, as they set the vote in August through the resolution itself. Legislation approved last December places strict limits on such special elections, and a measure aimed at loosening those restrictions faltered in the House.
Oklahoma – Ethics Commission Settles Conservative Alliance PAC Lawsuit, Kannady Mum
NonDoc – Michael McNutt | Published: 5/17/2023
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission settled a lawsuit against a PAC that spent more than $150,000 in multiple Republican legislative races in 2018 as part of an electoral effort participated in by a top GOP House leader to defeat several hardline members of his own caucus. The Conservative Alliance PAC and its treasurer, Chris Marston, admitted targeting specific candidates and failed to follow the disclosure requirements in Oklahoma law. The PAC and Marston will pay $45,000 to the state.
Oregon – Oregon Lawmakers May Consider Boosting Elected Officials’ Pay, Passing Ethics Reforms in Wake of Shemia Fagan’s Resignation
MSN – Grant Stringer (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 5/10/2023
Oregon lawmakers are mulling whether to boost pay for statewide officeholders and pass ethics reforms following the resignation of former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who stepped down after it was reported she had taken a $10,000 a month side job with a cannabis company. Fagan said she took the lucrative side job in part because she struggled to pay her bills as secretary of state. The post pays $77,000 per year.
Oregon – State Election Officials Fine Democratic Party of Oregon for Cryptocurrency Donation Flap
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Lauren Dake | Published: 5/12/2023
State election officials issued a $15,000 fine for the Oregon Democratic Party Democratic Party after the party changed the name of the donor of a hefty campaign check. The state also plans to monitor the party’s financial disclosures to ensure campaign finance laws are being followed in the future. The secretary of state’s office initially proposed a fine of $35,000after a three-month investigation but lowered the amount.
Pennsylvania – Cherelle Parker Wins Crowded Democratic Philadelphia Mayoral Primary; Dems Keep Pennsylvania House Majority
CBS News – Caroline Linton | Published: 5/17/2023
Philadelphia Democrats selected Cherelle Parker to be their party’s mayoral nominee. Parker will be favored to win the general election in November when she takes on Republican David Oh. The mayor’s race was the most expensive in the city’s history, with two candidates – Derek Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez – dropping out because the price of the race was too high. In addition, Democrats narrowly maintained their majority in the Pennsylvania House, thanks to a win in a closely watched special election.
South Carolina – Supreme Court to Consider South Carolina Plan That ‘Exiled’ Black Voters
MSN – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/15/2023
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider South Carolina’s attempt to reinstate a congressional redistricting plan that a lower court found had “exiled” 30,000 Black voters to create a district winnable for a White Republican candidate. The three-judge panel in January said the plan by the GOP-led Legislature split Black neighborhoods in the Charleston area to create a “stark racial gerrymander.” The judges found that South Carolina’s mapmaker tried to keep the African American population below a certain target in the district, treating Charleston County “in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the state.”
Tennessee – Former State Sen. Brian Kelsey Won’t Be Allowed to Change Guilty Plea; July Sentencing Set
MSN – Melissa Brown (Nashville Tennessean) | Published: 5/16/2023
Philadelphia Democrats selected Cherelle Parker to be their party’s mayoral nominee. Parker will be favored Former Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a federal campaign finance case. Kelsey sought to take his case to trial after what he called a flawed plea deal in November 2022, when he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his failed 2016 congressional campaign. U.S. Chief District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw, Jr. criticized Kelsey’s legal argument that he did not fully understand the implications of a criminal felony plea, given his career as a constitutional lawyer and a state lawmaker.
Texas – A TxDOT Commissioner Resigned in 2018. He Continued Drawing Pay for Five Years.
Yahoo News – Tony Plohetski (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 5/11/2023
In February 2018, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Commissioner Victor Vandergriff resigned from his governor-appointed position. Instead of stopping his payments, the state continued to cut him 62 monthly paychecks totaling nearly $92,000, plus benefits over the next five years. The state took steps to stop the payments after reporters asked why Vandergriff was still getting paid. Vandergriff’s abrupt exit came a month after the Texas Tribune reported Vandergriff had performed work as a private lobbyist during trips to Austin that were paid for by TxDOT.
Virginia – How Redistricting Reform Is Launching the Virginia General Assembly into a New Era
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 5/16/2023
The dramatically different electoral maps created after Virginia voters approved a new redistricting process in 2021 have been a clear factor in the ongoing institutional shake-up at the General Assembly, pushing many incumbents out and opening more room for candidates to run in new districts other incumbents cannot fully claim as their own. No matter which party wins control in November, the state Legislature will look very different when it reconvenes. That is fueling both trepidation over the loss of longtime statehouse figures and optimism over the opportunity to build anew.
Washington – Smiley PAC for ‘Political Outsiders’ Actually Pays Campaign Debt
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 5/13/2023
A few months after her unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley announced the launch of a new PAC to boost “political outsiders” across the country. Making the rounds of sympathetic conservative TV and radio shows, Smiley promoted Endeavor PAC and appealed for money. What Smiley did not mention during her media tour is that donations solicited by her PAC are earmarked first to retire a six-figure debt lingering from her Senate campaign.
Washington – Before Rule Change, AG Bob Ferguson Moves $1.2M ‘Surplus’ to Campaign
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 5/11/2023
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson shifted more than $1.2 million in surplus campaign money to his 2024 gubernatorial bid, getting ahead of a ruling placing new limits on such transfers. The Public Disclosure Commission voted to close the loophole that allowed such transfers without counting them toward individual contribution limits, agreeing with critics that the loophole violated the spirit of Washington’s campaign finance laws. The new guidance says candidates transferring surplus money should attribute the cash to specific donors.
May 12, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 12, 2023
National/Federal Tanked Biden FCC Pick Shows Influence of Dark Money on US Politics ABC News – Trenton Daniel (Associated Press) | Published: 5/8/2023 When Gigi Sohn was nominated to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, she found herself the target of an […]
Tanked Biden FCC Pick Shows Influence of Dark Money on US Politics
ABC News – Trenton Daniel (Associated Press) | Published: 5/8/2023
When Gigi Sohn was nominated to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, she found herself the target of an aggressive campaign funded by a conservative group that does not have to disclose its donors. The American Accountability Foundation called Sohn too partisan, anti-police, and soft on sex trafficking. The attacks landed to the point that even some Democrats abandoned her and Sohn withdrew her nomination. The battle over the nomination is the latest example of how organizations with political and financial agendas have been able to sway public opinion by deploying donations that are impossible to trace.
George Santos Pleads Not Guilty to Duping Donors, Stealing Campaign Cash to Burnish Wealthy Image
Associated Press News – Jake Offenhartz and Michael Sisak | Published: 5/10/2023
U.S. Rep. George Santos, infamous for fabricating his life story, pleaded not guilty to charges he duped donors, stole from his campaign, and lied to Congress about being a millionaire, all while cheating to collect unemployment benefits that he did not deserve. The thirteen-count indictment was a reckoning for a web of fraud and deceit that prosecutors say overlapped with his fantastical public image as a wealthy businessperson, a fictional biography that began to unravel after he won election last fall.
Jan. 6 Rioter Gets 14 Years for Police Attacks, Longest Sentence Yet in Inquiry
DNyuz – Alan Feurer and Zach Montague (New York Times) | Published: 5/6/2023
A Pennsylvania welder who attacked police officers at the Capitol with a chair and then chemical spray was sentenced to slightly more than 14 years in prison, the most severe penalty handed down so far in connection with the events of January 6, 2021. Peter Schwartz joined a growing list of people charged with assaulting the police on that day who have received stiff sentences.
Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, 3 Others Guilty of Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy
MSN – Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/4/2023
Former Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and three other members of the extremist group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The result was another victory for the Justice Department in the latest of three seditious conspiracy trials held after what it called a historic act of domestic terrorism to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.
Senate Panel Asks Crow for Full Accounting of Gifts to Thomas, Other Justices
MSN – Liz Goodwin and Marianne LeVine (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2023
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked billionaire Harlan Crow to provide a full accounting of the free travel and other gifts he has made to Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas or any other justice, marking an escalation of the committee’s efforts to convince the court to adopt stricter ethical standards for itself. The committee is the second Senate panel to target Crow after ProPublica reported he invited Thomas on expensive vacations, bought his mother’s house, and provided Thomas’s grandnephew with private school tuition, most of which were not disclosed by the justice.
Feinstein Returning to Washington After Health-Related Absence
MSN – Amy Wang and Liz Goodwin (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein will return to U.S. Capitol after a health-related absence that lasted more than two months. Her absence has stalled confirmations of some of President Biden’s judicial nominees, given that only judges with some Republican support can move to the floor without her tiebreaking vote on the committee. Her vote could also be crucial in negotiations over lifting the debt ceiling.
New White House Rules: Reporters can be kicked out if not ‘professional.’
MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023
The White House proposed new rules to determine who qualifies for access to its press briefing room on a regular basis and who can be thrown out for behavior officials determine is not “professional.” The rules represent the Biden White House’s attempt to establish a code of conduct to avoid the legal jeopardy the Trump administration ran into when it banished CNN reporter Jim Acosta and journalist Brian Karem from the White House complex. Courts later ruled officials violated the journalists’ due-process rights because they had acted without a set of written standards.
In Some GOP-Dominated Statehouses, Black and Trans Lawmakers Punished
MSN – Patrick Marley and Kimberly Kindy (Washington Post) | Published: 5/9/2023
In more than a dozen red states, Republican lawmakers passed bills to ban transgender health care and restrict access to abortions while ignoring calls for gun control measures. The fierce but futile opposition has often been led by a new generation of liberal lawmakers, some of them Black or transgender, who have represented their constituents by pushing the debate into places that have angered Republicans. GOP lawmakers have said Democrats are welcome to dissent but must follow rules of decorum, including acting civilly and not interrupting floor sessions. In some states, Republicans have voted to punish those lawmakers.
Under the Radar, Right-Wing Push to Tighten Voting Laws Persists
Seattle Times – Nick Corasaniti and Alexandra Berzon (New York Times) | Published: 5/8/2023
The first recent wave of legislation tightening voting laws came in 2021, when Donald. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud spurred Republican lawmakers to act over objections from Democrats. Two years later, a second wave is steadily moving ahead, but largely under the radar. Republican-led Legislatures have continued to pass restrictions on access to the ballot. Behind the efforts is a network of advocacy groups that has formed a new hub of election advocacy within the GOP, rallying state activists, and drafting model legislation.
Clarence Thomas’ Wife Ginni Was Paid Nearly $100,000 for ‘Consulting’ by a Nonprofit That Ended Up Filing an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court: Report
Yahoo News – Erin Snodgrass and Matthew Loh (Business Insider) | Published: 5/4/2023
Leonard Leo, a conservative judicial activist, helped Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, secure consulting work that yielded her nearly $100,000 while asking that her name was left off financial paperwork, according to The Washington Post. Leo told then-pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit he advised, Judicial Education Project, and give that money to Ginni Thomas in January 2012. That year, Leo’s nonprofit filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in a key voting rights case in which a majority that included Thomas ultimately opted to strike down a component of the Voting Rights Act.
New Twitter Rules Expose Election Offices to Spoof Accounts
Yahoo News – Ali Swenson (Associated Press) | Published: 5/6/2023
Impostor accounts on social media are among many concerns that election security experts have heading into next year’s presidential election. Experts have warned that foreign adversaries or others may try to influence the election, either through online disinformation campaigns or by hacking into election infrastructure. Election administrators have struggled to figure out the best way to respond after Twitter owner Elon Musk threw the platform’s verification service into disarray, given that Twitter has been among their most effective tools for communicating with the public.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Tucson Lawmaker Who Hid Bibles Says Ethics Complaint Lacks Merit
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 5/8/2023
Arizona Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton is asking for the dismissal of an ethics complaint filed against her. Attorneys for Hamilton said her actions to move and hide Bibles in the House lounge was a “peaceful protest regarding the separation of church and state.” The complaint accuses her of theft, saying she was controlling the property of someone else by hiding it, even if only for a short period of time.
California – How Free Trips for California Legislators Lead to Bills
MSN – Jeremia Kimelman and Alexei Koseff (CalMatters) | Published: 5/4/2023
The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy for the past four decades has been taking legislators and other state officials on free trips to learn about policy issues – trips funded and attended by representatives of companies and interest groups with business before the state. The trips serve as an influential tool for shaping policymaking at the state Capitol, with lawmakers returning from their travels with new perspectives and ideas on energy, the environment, water, transportation, and housing.
California – Former Top City Attorney Gets 9 Months of Home Detention in DWP Corruption Case
MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/9/2023
A former high-level lawyer in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office was sentenced to nine months of home detention for taking part in an extortion scheme tied to the Department of Water and Power’s (DWP) 2013 billing scandal. Thomas Peters also was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for his role in the corruption case. The sentence was far more lenient than the 18 months in prison sought by federal prosecutors. Peters admitted he threatened to fire one of the city’s outside lawyers unless that person paid off someone who was threatening to reveal damaging information about city lawyers’ handling of the DWP’s billing mess.
Colorado – Colorado Law Prohibits Utilities from Spending Ratepayer Money on Politics
Energy and Policy Institute – Joe Smyth | Published: 5/8/2023
A new law in Colorado prohibits investor-owned utility companies from using ratepayer money to fund trade associations, promotional advertising, certain kinds of lobbying, and other political influence activities. Currently, investor-owned utilities in Colorado charge ratepayers for most of their payments to trade associations, and only charge shareholders for a relatively small portion of the dues the trade associations determine were used for lobbying.
Florida – How Gov. Ron DeSantis Deploys State Police to Enforce Political Agenda
MSN – Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 5/5/2023
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) on-the-ground involvement in a plan to fly migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard speaks to how Gov. Ron DeSantis has increasingly deployed FDLE outside its traditional portfolio and in support of his own political agenda, according to a Washington Post investigation. Former FDLE officials say the governor is taking a dangerous risk by politicizing a statewide police force with a $300 million budget, almost 2,000 employees, and the broad power to launch criminal investigations and make arrests.
Florida – Andrew Gillum Not Guilty of Lying to FBI, Jury Deadlocks on Other Charges
Yahoo News – Jeff Burlew (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 5/4/2023
Jurors found former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum not guilty of lying to the FBI about a “Hamilton” ticket and other gifts he received from undercover FBI agents in New York. They deadlocked on the most serious charges against Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, and his co-defendant, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, involving the misuse of campaign funds. The jury was unable to reach consensus on one count of conspiracy and 17 counts of wire fraud against both defendants. The judge declared a mistrial on the counts that ended with no verdict reached.
Florida – Miami’s Mayor Attends Pricey Heat Playoff Games and Glam Grand Prix Parties. Who Pays?
Yahoo News – Sarah Blaskey and Camellia Burris (Miami Herald) | Published: 5/5/2023
Last year, Mayor Francis Suarez attended both the Miami Heat playoffs and Formula One events but was cagey about who picked up the tab. While state ethics laws require elected officials to report any gifts over $100, and records show Suarez eventually disclosed his playoff ticket as a five-figure gift, thousands of dollars of F1-related entertainment remain unaccounted for. Mayors are allowed to accept expensive gifts from non-family members so long as those gifts are reported and do not come from prohibited donors like lobbyists or city vendors, according to Caroline Klancke, executive director of the Florida Ethics Institute.
Florida – Accused ‘Ghost’ Candidate in Osceola County Commission Race Arrested
Yahoo News – Natalia Jaramillo (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 5/8/2023
A former Kissimmee city commissioner accused of being a “ghost” candidate in the 2022 District 4 race for Osceola County Commission is facing 14 criminal charges for campaign finance reporting violations. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began its investigation after Jackie Espinosa, a candidate in the same race, filed a complaint, accusing Carlos Irizarry of being paid to enter the commission election, which she lost to the incumbent. Irizarry was charged with eight counts of willful certification of false or incomplete campaign treasure’s reports and six counts of deliberate failure to report campaign expenditures.
Georgia – 8 False Trump Electors Have Accepted Immunity Deals, Lawyer Says
MSN – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 5/4/2023
Eight Republican activists who falsely claimed to be legitimate presidential electors for Donald Trump have accepted immunity deals from Fani Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney investigating Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election. It is the latest indication of Willis’s advancing investigation, which she recently revealed could result in charges, possibly against Trump himself and a slew of high-profile allies as soon as July.
Georgia – Kemp Signs Bill That Allows Ouster of Local Georgia Prosecutors
MSN – John Wagner and Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 5/5/2023
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation that would create a commission with the power to remove local prosecutors from office, a move Democrats in the state have decried as a power grab that usurps the will of local voters. The bill, which Democrats have vowed to challenge in court, would create an oversight panel that could recall any of the state’s elected district attorneys or solicitors general for several reasons, including “willful misconduct” or “persistent failure to perform his or her duties.”
Georgia – Watchdog Urges FEC to Probe Herschel Walker Campaign Over $535,200 Payment
Yahoo News – Jared Gans (The Hill) | Published: 5/5/2023
Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) urged the FEC to investigate former U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign over a payment that Walker allegedly solicited for his company last year. CREW said Walker and his company, HR Talent, violated federal election law in accepting $535,200 a donor believed was being directed to Walker’s campaign. Dennis Washington believed all of the $600,000 he transferred following a solicitation from Walker was for campaign funding. But only $64,800 went to Walker’s campaign fundraising committee, while the rest went to HR Talent.
Illinois – Reformer Quinn Joins Discussion Over Illinois Ethics Laws
MSN – John O’Connor (Associated Press) | Published: 5/9/2023
Four political insiders were recently convicted in a wide-ranging bribery case involving Commonwealth Edison’s bribery of the once-powerful speaker of the Illinois House. While a key House Democrat confirmed discussions about a package of ethics reforms were underway, former Gov. Pat Quinn delivered a letter to legislative leaders seeking a special session to adopt more than a half-dozen reforms.
Illinois – A Former Illinois State Senator Convicted in Corruption Scheme Gets a New Job – State Lobbyist
WBEZ – Dan Mihalopoulos | Published: 5/9/2023
Eleven days after completing a prison term for corruption, former Illinois Sen. Thomas Cullerton registered as a state government lobbyist in April. Cullerton pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from a labor union and was sentenced to more than a year in prison. Now, records show Cullerton registered as a lobbyist with Strategia Consulting, a public relations and government affairs firm. On its website, Cullerton is described as the firm’s chief public affairs officer.
Minnesota – Minnesota Passes Sweeping Election Reforms
Courthouse News Service – Andy Monserud | Published: 5/5/2023
Minnesota’s governor signed a number of changes to the state’s election rules into law, including provisions for automatic voting registration and a crackdown on the spread of misinformation intended to stop people from voting. The law is the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since it adopted same-day registration in 1974. Legislation also creates new disclosure requirements for would-be election advertisers and pamphleteers, and bars “foreign influenced” corporations and nonprofits from spending money to influence elections.
Missouri – ‘It Dilutes Their Vote’: Plan to restrict MO ballot measures could face legal trouble
Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 5/8/2023
Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are intent on approving restrictions that make it more difficult for voters to change the state constitution. But a major first-in-the-nation proposal under consideration could violate the U.S. Constitution, some legal experts and lawmakers say. While the GOP-controlled Legislature has flirted with tightening requirements on the state’s initiative petition process for years, a measure that lawmakers are weighing would give rural residents more power in statewide votes on constitutional amendments.
Montana – One Family Has Spearheaded Montana’s Unflinching Conservatism
Yahoo News – Mike Baker and Jacey Fortin (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2023
Montana Rep. Keith Regier has emerged as the patriarch of a new family political dynasty that has injected fresh conservative intensity into debates over abortion, diversity training, and transgender rights. Regier chairs the Senate’s powerful judiciary committee, while his daughter, Amy, leads its counterpart in the House. Regier’s son, Matt, is speaker of the House. The trio of legislators, each wielding a similar brand of conservatism, were among the most powerful proponents of a set of bills that took aim at the rights of transgender people.
New York – A Jury Finds Trump Liable for Battery and Defamation in E. Jean Carroll Trial
NPR – Becky Sullivan | Published: 5/9/2023
A jury found Donald Trump liable for battery and defamation in the lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. The jurors, who deliberated for barely three hours before reaching their unanimous conclusion, did not find that Trump raped Carroll. But they agreed he “sexually abused” her and he defamed her when he refuted her story. Carroll was awarded $5 million in total damages for both claims.
New York – Top New York City Hall Aide Worked Quietly with State Super PAC
Yahoo News – Joe Anuta (Politico) | Published: 5/10/2023
An independent expenditure committee supporting a suite of moderate state Assembly candidates last year received assistance from a previously unknown source – Ingrid Lewis-Martin, New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ chief advisor. Lewis-Martin made phone calls to solicit support for the Committee for a Fair New York and helped select the candidates who would benefit from its largesse. Under state law, New York City officials are allowed to raise money for political causes – except their own candidacy – provided they do it after hours and do not explicitly trade favors.
Pennsylvania – The Super PAC Backing Jeff Brown’s Mayoral Campaign Is Asking a Judge to Toss the City Ethics Board’s Lawsuit
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 5/5/2023
The super PAC that supported Jeff Brown’s mayoral campaign is asking a judge to throw out the Philadelphia Board of Ethics’ lawsuit accusing it of illegally coordinating with Brown, arguing Brown’s work with the group cannot be viewed as coordination because it occurred before he launched his campaign. If the judge agrees, the case could lead to a dramatic change in Philadelphia’s political landscape by making it easier for moneyed interests to work with their preferred candidates as they plan out their campaigns.
Tennessee – House Speaker Indicates Staff, Subcommittee Spent Money in Harassment Case
Tennessee Lookout – Sam Stockard | Published: 5/9/2023
Speaker Cameron Sexton is pointing at the Office of Legislative Administration and a Tennessee House ethics subcommittee in the disbursement of $9,000 in the case of a 19-year-old intern harassed by former Rep. Scotty Campbell. Yet an anonymous member of the panel was not aware the subcommittee had the authority to spend money or hand out punishment. The conflicting responses display the vagueness of the Legislature’s Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy, showing how it can be manipulated to cover up wrongdoing.
Texas – Facing Expulsion Vote Over Sexual Misconduct, GOP Lawmaker Resigns in Texas
MSN – Kyle Melnick and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2023
State Rep. Bryan Slaton resigned from his seat one day before his colleagues were slated to vote on whether to expel him from the Texas House after a committee unanimously recommended his dismissal over sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old aide. Slaton’s resignation is effective immediately. The General Investigation Committee accused Slaton in an investigative report of engaging in disorderly conduct – including harassment, serving alcohol to someone underage, and abusing his position.
Virginia – Lobbyists, Corporations Doused Environmental Bills in Virginia’s Legislative Session
Richmond Times-Dispatch – Luca Powell | Published: 5/7/2023
Despite the climate crisis, bills designed to curb pollution and emissions find fierce opposition in the growing, well-financed lobbies that have put down roots in Virginia. Money is the big differentiator between the environmental and industrial lobbies. Most of the former are nonprofits, for which it is illegal to make political donations. Trade groups, law firms, and big companies like Dominion Energy have no such restrictions.
May 5, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 5, 2023
National/Federal Top Republicans Balk at WinRed’s Plan to Charge More for Online Donations DNyuz – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2023 A battle over a threatened price increase has exposed growing tensions between top Republican Party officials and the company […]
Top Republicans Balk at WinRed’s Plan to Charge More for Online Donations
DNyuz – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2023
A battle over a threatened price increase has exposed growing tensions between top Republican Party officials and the company with a virtual monopoly on processing GOP campaign contributions online. Party leaders have risen up in opposition to the proposed price increase, which would siphon millions of dollars from campaigns less than 20 months after the company, WinRed, had said its finances were robust enough to forego an extra fee on every transaction.
Democratic AGs Are Using the Courts to Win on Abortion, Gun Control
MSN – Scott Wilson (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2023
Several Democratic attorneys general are moving aggressively on key social policy issues to blunt Republican initiatives across the country designed to loosen gun restrictions, outlaw abortion, and curtail the rights of transgender residents. The Democratic effort is creating what amounts to a series of state sanctuaries for those threatened by Republican laws. It also reflects a sense among the Democratic state attorneys general that a divided Congress is too deadlocked to pass any significant social policy legislation or impose civil rights protections.
Bill Would Require Disclosure of AI-Generated Content in Political Ads
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2023
As AI image generators and other tools have proliferated, the technology has become an instrument of political messaging, mischief, and misinformation. U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke introduced legislation that would amend federal campaign finance law to require that political ads include a statement disclosing any use of AI-generated imagery. The FEC tightened rules about sponsorship disclaimers for digital ads, making clear the requirement to disclose who paid for ads promoted on websites also apply to advertising on other platforms, such as social media and streaming sites.
Fugees Rapper Pras Michél Guilty in Sprawling Corruption Trial
MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023
Pras Michel, a rapper and producer best known as a member of the hip-hop group the Fugees, was convicted on 10 felony counts for his role in a tangle of conspiracies involving money laundering, campaign finance violations, illegal lobbying, and witness tampering. He was accused of accepting $865,000 from Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and giving that money to straw donors who used it to donate to former President Obama. Michel was also accused of trying to convince the Trump administration and the Justice Department to drop investigations into Low and assisting China in its efforts to have a dissident brought back to the country.
Pence Appears Before Jan. 6 Grand Jury in Trump Special Counsel Probe
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2023
Former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a grand jury that has been investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol and alleged efforts by Donald Trump and others to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Pence has said he is not asserting executive privilege, which could span other discussions, including his conversations with Trump and other top White House advisers, and matters not directly related to his constitutionally mandated Senate role. Attorneys for Trump challenged the Pence subpoena on executive privilege grounds to preserve the confidentiality of presidential decision-making.
Deep Divide at Supreme Court Ethics Hearing, Despite Some GOP Calls for Action
MSN – Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2023
A U.S. Senate hearing on Supreme Court ethics was dominated by partisan clashes, even as some Republican senators suggested the justices should be paying attention to public calls for a more robust and clear code of conduct. Judiciary Committee Chairperson Richard Durbin called the hearing after recent revelations about unreported lavish travel and real estate deals involving Justice Clarence Thomas and a billionaire Republican donor. He and other leading Democrats, along with advocates for court transparency, have grown increasingly frustrated with the justices’ refusal to set stronger rules for reporting and acting on potential conflicts.
Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.
ProPublica – Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 5/4/2023
In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in Georgia. Thomas had taken legal custody of Mark Martin when he was six years old. Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for one year at the school was the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow. Thomas did not report the tuition payments from Crow on his annual financial disclosures.
Carlson’s Text That Alarmed Fox Leaders: ‘It’s not how white men fight’
Yahoo News – Jeremy Peters, Michael Schmidt, and Jim Rutenberg (New York Times) | Published: 5/2/2023
A text message sent by Tucker Carlson that set off a panic at the highest levels of Fox on the eve of its billion-dollar defamation trial showed its most popular host sharing his private, inflammatory views about violence and race. The discovery of the message contributed to a chain of events that ultimately led to Carlson’s firing. For years, Carlson espoused views on his show that amplified the ideology of white nationalism. But the text message revealed more about his views on racial superiority.
From the States and Municipalities
Canada – Council Approves Lobbyist Registry for Barrie
Barrie Today – Bob Bruton | Published: 5/4/2023
The city council approved creating a lobbyist registry for Barrie. The registry will take effect January 1, 2024, and Suzanne Craig, the city’s integrity commissioner, will be appointed as interim registrar. Lobbyists will be required to register and report their activities no later than 10 days after a meeting has taken place with a public officeholder. Those who are registering as a lobbyist must have their profile approved by the registrar. The city will develop an online tool for submissions.
Arizona – Group Wants to Keep Dark Money Out of Politics
KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 4/30/2023
The group that convinced Arizona voters last year to expose “dark money” contributions to political campaigns wants a federal judge to toss a bid by a conservative advocacy group to kill the new law. In court filings, attorneys for Voters’ Right to Know said there is nothing inherently unconstitutional about ensuring that voters know the true source of funds being spent to influence their decisions on candidates and ballot measures. Hanging in the balance is Proposition 211.
California – Cooling Off Bill Heats Up Capitol Controversy, Gets Shelved
Capitol Weekly – Lisa Renner | Published: 4/27/2023
A bill to slow the “revolving door” of legislative staffers to lobbyist firms in California was shelved after sexual harassment victims’ advocates expressed opposition. Senate Bill 573 would have set the waiting period at one year and would be applied to staff on an issue-specific basis. Members of We Said Enough, a harassment victims’ group, said the waiting period could prevent victims from pursuing “natural career pathways” if they have to leave their Capitol jobs to flee sexual abuse or bullying.
California – Cupertino Lobbyist Rules Likely to Weather Constitutional Challenge
Courthouse News Service – Natalie Hanson | Published: 5/1/2023
The League of Women Voters of Cupertino-Sunnyvale filed a lawsuit against the city of Cupertino in 2022, claiming the ordinance that requires lobbyists to register and file disclosure reports is an overbroad regulation. The complaint contends the requirements have chilled members’ ability to exercise their protected rights to assemble, engage in free speech, and petition the government. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White dismissed the case, finding the ordinance does not directly regulate who can speak or what they can say.
California – FPPC Opens Investigation into Chula Vista Official Over Public Disclosure Laws
MSN – Tammy Murga (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 5/3/2023
The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas violated conflict-of-interest and economic-interest disclosure laws. Laura Wilkinson Sinton, who lodged the complaint, is a local cannabis business owner who sued the city in 2020 over a permit application for her business Caligrown. She asserts Cardenas has not publicly disclosed in her statements of economic interest the cannabis companies represented by Grassroots Resources, the political consulting firm that employs Cardenas.
California – S.F. Corruption Scandal: Here’s the latest prominent figure to plead guilty
MSN – Mallory Moench (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 5/2/2023
John Porter, a former executive at the Recology trash-hauling company, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud, admitting he paid more than $55,000 in bribes to disgraced former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who was at the center of a web of corruption in multimillion-dollar contracts for city services and now faces seven years in prison. The charge against Nuru for fraud in January 2020 started a domino effect of criminal actions against other city employees and contractors.
California – El Monte Will Require Lobbyists to Register, Limit Gifts to City Officials to $50 a Month
MSN – Jason Henry (Pasadena Star-News) | Published: 4/28/2023
Starting May 18, lobbyists in El Monte will need to register with the city, publicly disclose their clients, and adhere to a $50 monthly gift limit. The ordinance requires lobbyists to register within 15 days of any lobbying in the city and to identify their clients when presenting at council meetings if they are not already registered. After the initial registration, lobbyists are required to submit reports on their activities twice a year.
Colorado – Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams’ Day Job as a Legislative Aide Raises Some Concerns at the Capitol
Colorado Public Radio – Bente Birkeland | Published: 4/27/2023
Dave Williams, the new head of the Colorado Republican Party, is also working full time as a state legislative aide, an unusual arrangement that has some questioning how he can fulfill the responsibilities of both positions without running afoul of legislative rules. It is not unheard of for a GOP chairperson to have a day job and historically it was a volunteer role. Legislative rules say aides should be impartial and free of conflicts-of-interest while performing their duties, being sure to “maintain objectivity,” and not let outside biases impact their work.
Connecticut – Do Bridgeport Officials’ Free Concert Tickets Break Ethics Rules?
Stamford Advocate – Brian Lockhart | Published: 4/30/2023
Candidates challenging Joe Ganim’s mayoral re-election agreed that average residents should be granted better access to the 25-seat suite the city of Bridgeport maintains at its new concert amphitheater. City Attorney Mark Anastasi argued the use of the suite by Bridgeport officials does not violate sections of the municipal code forbidding financial gains and preferential treatment. Records for 2022 showed the two-tickets-per-person limit was not always enforced and many of the city employees who attended shows were not average rank-and-file workers but higher-level staffers or those with close ties to Ganim or the local Democratic Party.
Florida – In Blow to DeSantis, Florida Bills to Limit Press Protections Are Shelved
DNyuz – Ken Bensinger (New York Times) | Published: 5/3/2023
Legislation that would have sharply curbed press protections in Florida will not face a vote this year, a rare example of forces on the right thwarting a piece of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s agenda. The bills proposed sweeping changes to laws that shield media outlets from liability in defamation cases and sought to make it easier for private citizens to file libel suits. In addition to opposition from news outlets and free-speech groups, the legislation faced resistance from his allies, including right-wing media.
Florida – Appeals Court Upholds Florida Voting Restrictions Approved by GOP Lawmakers
MSN – Bruce Ritchie and Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 4/27/2023
A federal appeals court sided with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when it overturned a lower court’s decision on a controversial voting law. That law placed restrictions on the use of drop boxes and set new requirements for voter registration groups, among other things. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker had ruled the law was discriminatory against minorities and placed unconstitutional burdens on voters. Walker ordered the state to get court approval for a decade before it enacts changes in three areas of election law.
Florida – The First Arrests from DeSantis’s Election Police Take Extensive Toll
MSN – Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2023
Many of the initial 20 arrests announced by the Office of Election Crimes and Security in Florida have stumbled in court. Six cases have been dismissed and five other defendants accepted plea deals that resulted in no jail time. Only one case has gone to trial, resulting in a split verdict. The others are pending. Critics say the low numbers point to the overall strength of Florida’s electoral system and a lack of sufficient evidence to pursue further charges. DeSantis pushed through a bill ensuring the statewide prosecutor has jurisdiction over election crime cases, an attempt to resolve an issue several judges have raised in dismissing cases.
Illinois – Defendants Found Guilty on All Counts in ‘ComEd Four’ Trial; Juror Says Panel Wanted ‘Politics to Run in a Correct Manner’
MSN – Jason Meisner, Ray Long, and Megan Crepeau (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 5/2/2023
A jury convicted all four defendants of bribery conspiracy at their trial in Chicago that provided an inside look at “pay-to-play” politics in Illinois that prosecutors said involved the state’s largest electric utility and, at the time, one of its most powerful politicians. Federal prosecutors presented evidence to show two former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) executives, a former utility consultant, and a longtime government insider arranged contracts, jobs, and money for associates of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, once one of the nation’s most powerful legislators, to ensure proposed bills boosting ComEd profits became law.
Illinois – Illinois Set to Become First State to End Book Bans
Politico – Shia Kapos | Published: 5/3/2023
Illinois is poised to become the first state to punish public institutions that ban books. Gov. JB Pritzker has said he supports a House bill that would withhold state funding from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries that remove books from their shelves. The impetus for the legislation came from Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees library systems and their funding. Giannoulias said he could not fathom that book banning is happening in 2023.
Illinois – Judge Rules Niles Cannot Have an Elected Ethics Board; Voters Won’t Learn Results of April 4 Election
Yahoo News – Caroline Kubzansky (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/26/2023
Voters in Niles, Illinois, will probably never know the results of an April 4 election after a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled that village ordinance and structure does not allow for the creation of an elected ethics board. The ruling appears to end the effort by some citizens to initiate an elected ethics panel and Mayor George Alpogianis indicated the village’s appointed ethics board would be reconstituted.
Iowa – Iowa Legislature Passes Bill Restricting State Auditor’s Access to Records
MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2023
Republican lawmakers in Iowa passed a bill that would limit the state auditor’s access to certain records, a move the auditor says is intended to hamstring the office of the only statewide elected Democrat and could put $12 billion of federal funding at risk. The bill would prohibit the auditor from accessing a wide variety of records unless the agency being audited “agrees that the information is necessary for the purposes of the audit.” It would set up a three-person arbitration board in the case of any disputes about whether a state agency should provide documents to the auditor’s office.
Kentucky – Louisville Councilman Anthony Piagentini Sues Ethics Commission Investigating Him
MSN – Lucas Aulbach (Louisville Courier-Journal) | Published: 5/4/2023
Louisville Metro Council member Anthony Piagentini is pushing back against an ethics complaint filed against him. Piagentini filed a lawsuit alleging the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission disclosed confidential records in the case to the media and to the person who filed the complaint against him, and the city has failed to comply with its open meetings laws.
Maine – Portland City Council Establishes Clean Elections Program
Yahoo News – Rachel Ohm (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 5/1/2023
Portland city councilors approved creating a municipal clean elections program that will provide campaign funding to candidates in local races, starting with the November election. Candidates for mayor, city council, and school board will all be eligible for the funds staring June 1. Those interested in participating can register with the city clerk and begin collecting qualifying contributions of five dollars from voters to be eligible for the municipal funds.
Maryland – Ex-Legislative Black Caucus Chair Sees Lobbying Opportunities for People of Color
Maryland Daily Record – Jack Hogan | Published: 4/27/2023
Former Maryland Del. Darryl Barnes, the previous chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he hopes his transition into lobbying will open the door for more Black people to join the profession. Barnes recently joined Evans & Associates, an Annapolis lobbying firm. Barnes plans to establish a Black lobbying association in the state to recruit and mentor future lobbyists and focus on policies affecting the African American community.
Michigan – Will Michigan’s Financial Disclosure Law Reveal Politicians’ Long-Hidden Perks? It’s Up to Them.
MLive – Simon Schuster | Published: 5/1/2023
Last November, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring state elected officials to disclose information about their personal finances for the first time. Proposal 1 provides some broad disclosure requirements such as descriptions of assets and debts, sources of earned and unearned income, and memberships in organizations without much more detail. The proposal required legislators to pass a law implementing the financial disclosure system by the end of this year. It means the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will have a lot of latitude to choose precisely how much transparency voters see.
Montana – Son Asked Montana Governor to Veto Anti-Trans Bill. It Didn’t Work.
MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 4/28/2023
Few expected a lobbying effort from the Montana governor’s son. Gov. Greg Gianforte had heard from other queer activists for weeks as the state Legislature advanced anti-transgender bills. But his son caught the attention of queer and trans people across the state and country for trying to persuade his father not to sign the bills. David Gianforte, who came out publicly as nonbinary very recently and uses he and they pronouns. Despite his son’s attempts, the governor signed a bill restricting gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths, joining 14 states that have passed similar laws since January.
Montana – Judge Rejects Zooey Zephyr Bid to Return to Montana House
Yahoo News – Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown (Associated Press) | Published: 5/2/2023
State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the transgender lawmaker silenced after telling Republicans they would have blood on their hands for opposing gender-affirming health care for children, was barred from returning to the Montana House floor in a court ruling that came just hours before the Legislature wrapped up its biennial session. District Court Judge Mike Menahan said it was outside his authority to overrule lawmakers who voted to exclude Zephyr from the floor and debates. He cited the importance of preserving the Constitution’s separation of powers.
Nebraska – Complaint Dismissed Against State Capitol Bible Study, Leader Says He’s Being More Careful
Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 4/27/2023
A formal complaint that Arin Hess, the leader of a State Capitol Bible study group, needed to register as a lobbyist has been dismissed by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Hess organizes a weekly Bible study with about a dozen state senators and offers a similar meeting for legislative staffers. He also provides pastoral support and counsel at least three days a week at the Capitol. Hess said he has become more watchful that the studies do not stray into legislative matters.
Nebraska – Lawmakers Denounce Complaint Against Megan Hunt Alleging Conflict of Interest in Trans Bill
Omaha World Herald – Chris Dunker (Lincoln Journal-Star) | Published: 4/26/2023
Several Nebraska lawmakers denounced a complaint filed against state Sen. Megan Hunt, who is mother to a trans child, alleging she could benefit financially if a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors fails in the Legislature. Senators from both sides of the political aisle condemned a complaint submitted to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission as “frivolous” and “malicious.” Others called it a deliberate attempt to intimidate and harass a lawmaker and her family.
New Jersey – N.J. Campaign Manager Charged with Election Fraud in 2021 Primary for Governor
MSN – S.P. Sullivan (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/2/2023
A longtime New Jersey political operative faces criminal election fraud charges after authorities say he filed a petition with nearly 2,000 bogus signatures on behalf of his romantic partner, a frequent candidate for office. Jim Devine faces third-degree charges of election fraud and records tampering stemming from a petition for Lisa McCormick’s failed 2021 bid for governor. The charges against Devine are the latest in a string of political controversies involving the couple.
New York – State Launches Investigation of Assembly’s Unregistered Day Care Center
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 4/28/2023
The New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) confirmed it will investigate an unlicensed childcare center that state Assembly leaders have been operating for several months in the Legislative Office Building. The complimentary childcare service, which has been staffed by two legislative aides, has provided day care services for a handful of Democratic Assembly members. Although Speaker Carl Heastie’s office has used the term “drop-in center” to describe the day care room, OCFS generally defines those centers as serving homeless and runaway youth.
North Carolina – North Carolina Court, with New Partisan Mix, Reverses Itself on a Key Voting Case
Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2023
The North Carolina Supreme Court, with a new Republican majority, threw out a previous ruling against gerrymandered voting maps and upheld a photo voter identification law that colleagues had struck down as racially biased. The practical effect is to enable the GOP-controlled Legislature to scrap the court-ordered district boundaries that were used in elections last November, and draw new maps skewed in their favor for elections in 2024. Overturning such a recent ruling by the court was a highly unusual move, particularly on a pivotal constitutional issue in which none of the facts had changed.
Ohio – Can Cincinnati Recover from ‘Culture of Corruption’ Reputation While Bribery Cases Linger in Court System?
WCPO – Paula Christian | Published: 4/26/2023
Cincinnati drew national attention in 2020 when the FBI arrested three city council members on public corruption charges. Now, as two of those cases still linger in federal court, experts say the city cannot move past the embarrassment or reputational damage until they finally end. Former prosecutor and ex-council member Steve Goodin said out-of-town investors, particularly ones in commercial real estate, are still hesitant to develop in Cincinnati despite its hot market.
Ohio – Shammas Malik Wins Akron Mayoral Primary, in Line to Be the First Person of Color as Mayor
WOSU – Anna Huntsman, Abbey Marshall, and Abigail Bottar (Ideastream Public Media) | Published: 5/2/2023
City council member Shammas Malik will likely be Akron’s next mayor after winning the Democratic primary. A former assistant law director for Akron, Malik is expected to win the general election in November since there is no Republican or independent challenger on the ballot. Malik would be the first person of color to serve as mayor.
Oregon – Shemia Fagan Resigns as Oregon Secretary of State Following Cannabis Consulting Scandal
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart and Lauren Dake | Published: 5/2/2023
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will resign May 8 in reaction to a scandal over her decision to accept lucrative side work as a cannabis consultant. Fagan’s announcement followed days of escalating fallout over revelations she signed a $10,000-per-month contract with the owners of an Oregon cannabis chain at the same time her office audited state regulations on marijuana businesses. The owners are also high-profile Democratic campaign donors.
South Carolina – Final Sentences Issued in SC Statehouse Ethics Scandal Cases
Charleston Post and Courier – Jessica Holdman | Published: 4/27/2023
A judge sentenced two former South Carolina lawmakers, bringing an end to proceedings in an eight-year corruption probe that ensnared six politicians and a leading political operative. Former Sen. John Courson was sentenced to a year of probation with 100 hours of community service. Former Rep. Tracy Edge paid a fine of $500 in lieu of six months in prison six months. Both former lawmakers saw reduced sentences for cooperating with prosecutors.
Vermont – Vermont Democratic Party Files Complaint Against True North Radio, Alleging Failure to Disclose Lobbying Activity
VTDigger.org – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 4/28/2023
The Vermont Democratic Party filed a complaint against the conservative broadcasting company True North Radio for failing to disclose alleged lobbying activity. In February, True North Radio purchased dozens of spots from WCAX to air advertisements that appear to oppose the Affordable Heat Act just as lawmakers began hashing out details of the bill. Vermont’s lobbying disclosure laws require that an advertisement “intended, designed, or calculated to influence legislative action or to solicit others to influence legislative action” be disclosed within 48 hours of purchase if the ad costs more than $1,000.
Washington – Early WA Governor’s Race Skirmish? Campaign Finance Loophole Scrutinized
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 4/28/2023
The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) is considering whether to close a loophole that could give Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson a big campaign money advantage if he runs for governor next year. The debate revolves around so-called surplus accounts where state politicians are allowed to park unspent campaign donations for use in future campaigns. Under current rules, Ferguson could transfer it to a gubernatorial campaign, and then ask donors for new contributions. Ferguson’s potential opponent asked the PDC to close the loophole, saying it allows an end-run around the state’s contribution limits.
April 28, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 28, 2023
National/Federal Chief Justice Declines to Testify Before Congress Over Ethics Concerns DNyuz – Abbie VanSickle (New York Times) | Published: 4/25/2023 Chief Justice John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was declining its invitation to testify about ethics rules for the […]
Chief Justice Declines to Testify Before Congress Over Ethics Concerns
DNyuz – Abbie VanSickle (New York Times) | Published: 4/25/2023
Chief Justice John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was declining its invitation to testify about ethics rules for the Supreme Court. In an accompanying statement on ethics practices, all nine justices, under mounting pressure for more stringent reporting requirements at the court, insisted the existing rules around gifts, travel, and other financial disclosures are sufficient.
The Campaign Finance Agency’s Press Shop Can’t Confirm or Deny the Existence of Complaints Anymore
Government Executive – Courtney Bublé | Published: 4/26/2023
The press office for the FEC can no longer confirm or deny the existence of complaints of alleged violations it has received, departing from years of practice and raising concerns about transparency. The vote was requested by Commissioner Allen Dickerson, citing legal advice from the agency’s Office of General Counsel in 2006 that was never followed.
Trump Can’t Stop Pence from Testifying to Jan. 6 Grand Jury, Court Rules
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023
Donald Trump cannot block his former vice president from testifying before a grand jury investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, a federal appeals court ruled. The ruling helps clear the way for Mike Pence to speak under oath about the pressure Trump put him under to declare the 2020 election results invalid. While Trump could seek to further forestall that testimony by appealing to the Supreme Court, other people in the president’s orbit have testified after similar losing battles in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Mike Lindell’s Firm Told to Pay $5 Million in ‘Prove Mike Wrong’ Election-Fraud Challenge
MSN – Chris Dehghanpoor, Emma Brown, and Jon Swaine (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023
MyPillow founder and prominent election denier Mike Lindell claimed he had data showing Chinese interference in American elections and said he would pay $5 million to anyone who could prove the material was not from the previous year’s U.S. election. He called the challenge “Prove Mike Wrong.” A private arbitration panel ruled that someone did. The panel said Robert Zeidman, a computer forensics expert and Trump voter from Nevada, was entitled to the $5 million payout. Zeidman examined Lindell’s data and concluded that not only did it not prove voter fraud, it had no connection to the 2020 election.
Lobbying Firms Start Strong After Record $4-Billion Haul in 2022
MSN – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 4/20/2023
Leading Washington lobbying firms reported huge earnings, revealing business is still booming on K Street despite divided control of Congress. Lobbyists said they are busy influencing federal rules authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act. Corporate clients are also heavily invested in a potential permitting reform bill and the debt ceiling fight, which has the potential to cause major damage to the U.S. economy.
The Conservative Campaign to Rewrite Child Labor Laws
MSN – Jacob Bogage and María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 4/23/2023
The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project, have found success among Republicans to roll back certain child labor protections. They are gaining traction at a time the Biden administration is scrambling to enforce existing labor protections for children. The FGA achieved its biggest victory in March, playing a central role in designing a new Arkansas law to eliminate work permits and age verification for workers younger than 16. That law was met with such public outcry that state officials approved a second measure increasing penalties on violators of the child labor codes.
Biden Announces He Is Running for Reelection in 2024
MSN – Tolouse Olorunnipa, Tyler Pager, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/25/2023
President Biden officially announced his bid for reelection, saying in a video that he wants to “finish the job” he started when the country was racked by a deadly pandemic, a reeling economy, and a teetering democracy. Claiming his presidency has pulled the country back from the brink on all those fronts, Biden underlined his ambition to turn what he had once pitched as a transitional presidency into something far more transformational.
Law Firm Head Bought Gorsuch-Owned Property
MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 4/25/2023
For nearly two years beginning in 2015, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch sought a buyer for a 40-acre property he co-owned in Granby, Colorado. Nine days after he was confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, the then-Circuit Court judge got one: the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, one of the nation’s biggest law firms. Gorsuch did not disclose the identity of the purchaser. Since then, Greenberg Traurig has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the court.
No Labels Is Getting on State Ballots, Drawing a Lawsuit and Concerns About a Spoiler
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Ben Giles (KJZZ) | Published: 4/26/2023
The centrist political group No Labels is getting on the ballot in individual states, causing consternation among members of the major political parties about the organization’s endgame. The group says it is not interested in running a presidential campaign. Nonetheless, the nonprofit is committed to raising roughly $70 million to gather signatures and qualify for the ballot in 2024. Ryan Clancy, lead strategist for No Labels, insists it is a one-ticket operation, a presidential “insurance project” for dissatisfied Republicans and Democrats.
On Eve of Trial, Discovery of Carlson Texts Set Off Crisis atop Fox
Seattle Times – Jim Rutenberg, Jeremy Peters, and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 4/26/2023
The day before Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation trial against Fox News was set to begin, the Fox board of directors and top executives made a discovery that helped lead to the breaking point between the network and Tucker Carlson. Private messages sent by Carlson that had been redacted in legal filings showed him making highly offensive and crude remarks that went beyond the inflammatory, often racist comments of his prime-time show and anything disclosed in the lead-up to the trial.
From the States and Municipalities
Canada – Google Denies It Engaged in ‘Astroturfing’ to Lobby Ottawa Through Third Parties
Globe and Mail – Marie Woolf | Published: 4/20/2023
Google denied accusations it had engaged in “astroturfing” campaigns to lobby against federal bills in Canada by paying individuals and other organizations to oppose them. Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, faced questions from Members of Parliament in a committee hearing about lobbying over Ottawa’s online news bill, which would force Google to pay news publishers for reusing their work.
Arizona – Arizona Lawmakers Want Special Social-Media Treatment of Candidates
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 4/23/2023
State lawmakers are poised to enact a measure designed to regulate how national and international social media platforms operate in Arizona. Senate Bill 1106 would put into state law that once people become candidates for any public office, they cannot have their posting rights taken away, essentially no matter what they say, truthful or otherwise. Only violations of the federal Communications Decency Act would result in loss of privileges. Social media sites that take down a candidate’s posting could face civil fines of up to $250,000 a day.
Arkansas – Former State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson Sentenced in Corruption Case
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Doug Thompson | Published: 4/25/2023
Former Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, the son of a former U.S. senator and nephew of a soon-to-be announced presidential candidate, received a 50-month prison sentence court for corruption. Hutchinson is one of five former Arkansas lawmakers convicted after a federal Medicaid fraud investigation, along with six health care company executives and lobbyists. The 50 months was added to the 46 months Hutchinson was sentenced to in Arkansas. He now faces a total eight years in prison.
California – SFMTA Commissioner Resigns After Illegal Lobbying
Mission Local – Joe Rivano Barros | Published: 4/25/2023
Gwyneth Borden, who has served on two city commissions over the past 15 years and was most recently the vice chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors, has resigned following her admission that she illegally lobbied city staff and officials. Borden was paid $12,500 as a “consultant” for the Italian eatery Fiorella, which was seeking to legalize a non-compliant outdoor deck. Borden sent 32 emails to city staff, planning commissioners, and one city supervisor seeking support for a permit at the restaurant.
Colorado – Influential Conservative Dark-Money Group Doesn’t Have to Reveal Donors, Face Campaign Finance Sanctions, Denver Judge Rules
Colorado Sun – Jesse Paul | Published: 4/21/2023
A conservative “dark money” political group does not have to reveal its donors and pay a $40,000 fine levied by state elections officials stemming from the $4 million it spent on 2020 ballot initiatives, a Denver District Court judge ruled. Judge David Goldberg found Unite for Colorado, which has since disbanded, did not violate a state law requiring political nonprofits to register as issue committees and reveal their funders when their spending on a ballot initiative is their “major purpose.”
Connecticut – West Haven’s Attorney Suspended After Awarding City Work to His Own Law Firm
CT Mirror – Andrew Brown | Published: 4/25/2023
West Haven’s corporation counsel has over the past three years funneled city work to his own private law firm, enabling him and his wife to represent the city in foreclosure cases and to bill up to $225 per hour for their services. As West Haven’s top attorney, Lee Tiernan has the power to hire outside counsel to assist the city in legal matters. But documents show he used that authority to assign work to his wife, Amanda Tiernan, through a private law practice that bears his name.
District of Columbia – D.C. Settles Suit Brought by 2 Journalists Detained During Trump Inauguration
MSN – Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 4/25/2023
The District of Columbia agreed to pay $175,000 to two journalists to settle a lawsuit that alleged police unlawfully detained the pair while they were covering demonstrations and vandalism in downtown Washington during Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in January 2017. A spokesperson for the journalists said writer Aaron Cantú and photojournalist Alexei Wood would split the settlement. Both were arrested and charged with rioting and other counts; Wood was acquitted at trial and prosecutors later dropped the charges against Cantú.
Florida – Disney Sues Gov. Ron DeSantis, Alleging Political Retaliation
MSN – Aaron Gregg and Lori Rozsa (Washinton Post) | Published: 4/26/2023
Walt Disney Co. is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over what it calls a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” – an escalation of the year-long clash between the company and DeSantis. The lawsuit came the same day the governor’s handpicked board declared a Disney-friendly deal null and void. The standoff began when Disney leaders criticized a controversial education bill advanced by DeSantis and other Republicans. Disney’s resorts are some of the state’s prime attractions, but DeSantis expressed outrage that the company dared criticize the education bill and began attacking the company.
Hawaii – Former Hawaii Charter Schools Head Admits to Ethics Violations
Yahoo News – Esme Infante (Honolulu Star Advertiser) | Published: 4/26/2023
The former executive director of the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission agreed to pay $5,000 in fines and admitted to committing more than a dozen violations of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws during his time at the agency. Sione Thompson signed off on multiple state contracts with three nonprofit organizations without disclosing he also served on the boards of those organizations, said the Hawaii Ethics Commission.
Illinois – Paul Vallas Seeks $700,000 from Campaign Consultant ‘For Services They Did Not Perform’
MSN – A.D. Quig and Gregory Pratt (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/21/2023
In Paul Vallas’ ultimately losing effort to become Chicago mayor, his campaign paid a political consultant nearly $700,000 to help win over Black voters – work Vallas now claims in a lawsuit was not performed. The suit, filed against Chimaobi Enyia and his business, says Vallas was the victim of fraud, unjust enrichment, and “in the alternative, breach of contract” by Enyia. Vallas claims Enyia used the pressure of the runoff election against Brandon Johnson to squeeze hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Vallas campaign.
Illinois – Prominent Lightfoot Supporter, Business Owner Pays $5,000 Ethics Fine for Lobbying City Hall Without Registering
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 4/24/2023
Businessperson Carmen Rossi was fined $5,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for violating the city’s lobbying law. Rossi lobbied the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department on behalf of Chicago Parking Solutions even though he was not registered to lobby for the company. It won a contract to operate 13 parking lots on Chicago Public Schools property. But it was denied the licenses needed to operate those lots, prompting Rossi to send Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Ken Meyer an email asking him to expedite the licenses.
Michigan – Businessman Pleads Guilty to Bribing Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board Chairman
Detroit News – Craig Mauger and Robert Snell | Published: 4/21/2023
Businessperson John Dalaly pleaded guilty to providing bribes to Rick Johnson, the chair of Michigan’s medical marijuana licensing board, and told a federal judge he hired Johnson’s wife as a consultant at a rate of $4,000 a month. Dalaly faces up to 10 years in federal prison and became the first person to plead guilty in court as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe, examining Michigan’s awarding of licenses to sell and grow medical marijuana.
Michigan – In a Thriving Michigan County, a Community Goes to War with Itself
MSN – Greg Jaffe and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2023
The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to “thwart tyranny” in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people. In this case, the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran. In an era when Americans had never seemed more divided and distrustful, county governments, at their best, helped define what remains of the common good. But Ottawa County was becoming a case study in what happens when one of the building blocks of democracy is consumed by ideological battles over race, religion, and American history.
Missouri – Missouri Lets Local Officials Take Unlimited Gifts from Lobbyists. Senators Move to Ban.
MSN – Kacen Bayless and Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 4/21/2023
The Missouri Senate voted to ban mayors, city council members, county commissioners, and other local government officials, along with employees of local elected officials, from accepting gifts from lobbyists, years after voters approved eliminating gifts for state legislators. The legislation now heads to the House. The bill would close a gap left by the Clean Missouri constitutional amendment, which greatly restricted lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, and a subsequent amendment that eliminated them altogether. Both measures focused on the General Assembly, while leaving local officials free to continue accepting gifts.
Missouri – Missouri AG Withdraws from Gambling Case After Taking Donations from Other Side
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 4/25/2023
Lawyers working for Attorney General Andrew Bailey withdrew from a lawsuit lodged against the state by a politically connected company that has flooded Missouri with unregulated slot machines. The move follows tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to a PAC supporting Bailey from committees that have received contributions from the plaintiffs in the case. The committees are also tied to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist for the two plaintiffs in the case.
Montana – Montana Republicans Bar Transgender Lawmaker from House Floor
MSN – María Paúl, Timothy Bella, Maham Javaid, and Ben Brasch (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2023
The Montana House blocked a transgender lawmaker from the chamber floor for the remainder of the legislative session after an escalating standoff over her remarks on transgender issues. Since Zephyr said those who support banning gender-affirming care for transgender children would have “blood on your hands,” Republican leaders have declined to recognize her on the floor and her microphone has been disabled when lawmakers have debated. In response, Zephyr and her supporters held a rally that resulted in seven arrests and upended proceedings at the Capitol as people jammed inside the chamber and kept chanting, “Let her speak!”
Nebraska – Four Men, Including Omaha City Councilman Vinny Palermo, Federally Indicted
Lincoln Journal-Star – Emily Nitcher, Jessica Wade, and Christopher Burbach (Omaha World-Herald) | Published: 4/21/2023
Four men, including Omaha City Councilperson Vinny Palermo, have been indicted in connection with alleged fraudulent activity involving the Latino Peace Officers Association and Police Athletics for Community Engagement. Court papers allege retired Omaha Police Captain Rich Gonzalez and Johnny Palermo provided personal and financial benefits, “to include airfare, luxury hotel accommodations, travel arrangements, and other items of value” in exchange for official actions taken by Vinny Palermo in his capacity as a city council member.
Nevada – Legal Finding Against Clark County Commissioner Prompts Call to Resign
Las Vegas Sun – Casey Harrison | Published: 4/26/2023
The Nevada Republican Party is calling on Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones to resign after a ruling from a federal judge found he was “not truthful” about text messages removed from his personal cellphone amid a legal battle over a housing development. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Elayna Youchah ruled Jones flouted the county’s record-retention policy as well as Nevada Supreme Court precedent when text messages from his personal phone dated January 3, 2019 – shortly after Jones’ first days as a newly sworn-in commissioner – through April 17 of the same year were deleted.
New Jersey – Was He Corrupt When He Allegedly Accepted a Bag Full of Cash? Or Victim of an Overzealous Prosecutor?
MSN – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/24/2023
The exchange had been caught on surveillance recordings. A Baskin-Robbins bag stuffed with cash was handed over to the mayoral candidate by an informant cooperating with prosecutors. “I just want to be your tax guy,” he said. “Yeah. Done. That’s … easy,” replied the candidate. Was that a bribe under the law, as prosecutors allege? Or as defense attorneys argue, an example of overzealous prosecution that expanded the meaning of a state corruption statute that had never been intended to impose target someone who was just an “ordinary, private citizen?”
New Jersey – Head of NJ ELEC Sues Murphy, Says New Campaign Finance Law Overhaul Is Unconstitutional
Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 4/20/2023
Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) Executive Director Jeff Brindle sued New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy again, challenging the constitutionality of the recently signed Elections Transparency Act, which overhauled ELEC and campaign finance rules in the state. Brindle seeks to block contentious sections of the law that allow Murphy to directly appoint the four members of the agency board without the advice and consent of the Senate within a 90-day period, as well as a provision that slashes the amount of time the commission has to investigate campaign finance violations from 10 years to two years after a violation was committed.
New Mexico – Text Messages Last Year Urged N.M. Voters to Support a Ballot Measure. An Ethics Settlement Unraveled Who Was Behind the Campaign.
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 4/24/2023
A New York-based advocacy group paid an $11,000 civil penalty and disclosed the donors behind a text-messaging campaign after it was accused of violating New Mexico’s campaign finance law. The payment and disclosure come after the State Ethics Commission filed a lawsuit last year alleging the Working Families Organization tried to conceal its role in text messages urging voters to support a ballot measure to boost education funding.
New York – Cuomo Sues Ethics Commission, Saying It’s Too Independent of the Governor
Albany Times-Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 4/26/2023
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing the possibility of paying millions of dollars to the state, is suing New York’s new ethics commission, and alleging it is so independent from the current governor it is unconstitutional. Cuomo action comes ahead of him scheduled to be the subject of a proceeding before the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government on June 12. He is facing ongoing scrutiny from the ethics agency over his $5 million book deal recounting his administration’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York – Rape Allegation Against Donald Trump Heads to Trial
MSN – Corinne Ramey (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 4/23/2023
A civil trial is set to begin concerning advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s allegations that Donald Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. Trump has denied Carroll’s claims, saying the encounter never happened and she made it up for publicity. The case centers on a complaint she filed when New York state opened a yearlong window in which people who say they were sexually assaulted as adults could sue their alleged abusers, no matter how long ago the conduct occurred.
Ohio – What Can Ohio Regulators Do to Prevent Future Utility Corruption Scandals?
Energy News Network – Kathiann Kowalski | Published: 4/27/2023
Regulators taking proactive steps could reduce the risk of future utility corruption scandals like that which led to the guilty verdicts for former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, say advocates. Yet for now the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is dealing only with specific cases linked to the current scandal surrounding the state’s coal and nuclear bailout law, House Bill 6. Critics say the PUCO should take steps through rule-making or otherwise to provide more transparency and accountability.
Oklahoma – Okla. Official Resigns Amid Accusations of Racism, Talk of Killing Journalists
MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023
Mark Jennings, a county commissioner in Oklahoma, resigned amid growing backlash after a local newspaper reported he and other officials talked about lynching Black people and threatened to assassinate two reporters in a conversation secretly recorded by one of those journalists. Gov. Kevin Stitt had called on Jennings and three other McCurtain County officials to step down, saying he was “appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments.” The other officials are Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning, and county jail administrator Larry Hendrix.
Oregon – Oregon Democrats Weigh Competing Proposals to Cap Political Donations
Portland Oregonian – Grant Stringer | Published: 4/24/2023
New proposals introduced in the state Senate recently would set strict limits to quell the exorbitant spending in Oregon elections without the same loopholes included in other bills introduced by Democrats this session. Sen. Jeff Golden introduced two amendments to Senate Bill 500 mirroring 2024 ballot initiatives by Honest Elections Oregon and the League of Women Voters. Those groups seek stringent limits on campaign donations and transparency in political advertising. Oregon is one of just a handful of states that allows donors to give unlimited sums of money to political campaigns.
Pennsylvania – The Super PAC Backing Jeff Brown’s Mayoral Campaign Has Agreed to Sit on the Sidelines Through the Primary
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/24/2023
A judge approved a limited agreement between the Philadelphia Board of Ethics and For A Better Philadelphia, a super PAC backing Jeff Brown’s campaign for mayor, that will keep the political group on the sidelines through the May 16 primary. The agreement does not affect the broader case the ethics board is pursuing against For A Better Philadelphia, which is an independent expenditure committee that is legally required to operate separately from Brown and his campaign.
Tennessee – Tennessee Lawmaker Resigns After Violating Harassment Policy
MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2023
Tennessee Rep. Scotty Campbell was walking to the Capitol in Nashville when a reporter stopped him to ask about allegations of harassment brought against him by an intern. Campbell said he “had consensual, adult conversations with two adults off property.” Six hours later, the lawmaker, who two weeks ago voted to expel three Democratic colleagues, over decorum violations, submitted a letter of resignation. An ethics subcommittee reported it found Campbell had violated the General Assembly workplace policy on discrimination and harassment after an internal investigation.
Vermont – Full Disclosure: Conflict of interest rule leaves plenty of leeway for legislators’ other jobs
VTDigger.org – Kristen Fountain | Published: 4/19/2023
While nearly half of the Vermont Senate and roughly a third of the state House are retired, the rest supplement their modest legislative salaries with jobs, ranging from selling real estate to nursing. The Legislature’s rules define a conflict-of-interest so narrowly they almost never prevent lawmakers from crafting and voting on bills even when they or their employers stand to benefit financially.
Virginia – Virginia Politicians Can Spend Campaign Donations on Just About Anything. Here’s Why Reform Efforts Have Failed.
MSN – Katie King (Virginian-Pilot) | Published: 4/23/2023
In Virginia, politicians can legally spend campaign donations on essentially anything, and there is no limit on who can donate or how much they can give. The lax rules make the state an outlier when it comes to laws on campaign spending. Some say stricter laws are not needed because donors should trust the candidates they choose to support. But others argue guardrails are needed to prevent the misuse of funds, especially as more money pours into races. Campaign finance issues have been on Virginia’s radar for decades, with a commission created in 1992 by then-Gov. Douglas Wilder advising the state to overhaul its laws.
Wyoming – Lawmakers to Examine Legislative Ethics, Misconduct Rules
WyoFile – Maggie Mullen | Published: 4/25/2023
Wyoming Rep. Karlee Provenza drew national attention, multiple formal complaints, and at least one call for her ouster from committee assignments for a controversial social media post. The high-profile dust-up, and House Speaker Albert Sommers’ decision not to punish the lawmaker for a post some perceived as threatening, have intensified interest in what otherwise promised to be one the Legislature’s more obscure off-season assignments: redrawing the boundaries of acceptable lawmaker conduct and reexamining the process for handling ethics complaints and other grievances.
April 21, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 21, 2023
National/Federal DEA Chief Faces Probe into ‘Swampy’ Hires, No-Bid Contracts Associated Press News – Joshua Goodman and Jim Mustian | Published: 4/20/2023 A federal watchdog is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration under Anne Milgram improperly awarded millions of dollars in […]
DEA Chief Faces Probe into ‘Swampy’ Hires, No-Bid Contracts
Associated Press News – Joshua Goodman and Jim Mustian | Published: 4/20/2023
A federal watchdog is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration under Anne Milgram improperly awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to hire her past associates, people familiar with the probe said. Among the spending under scrutiny by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is $4.7 million for “strategic planning and communication” and other contracts that were used to hire people Milgram knew from her days as New Jersey’s attorney general and as a New York University law professor at costs far exceeding pay for government officials.
Clarence Thomas Has for Years Claimed Income from a Defunct Real Estate Firm
MSN – Shawn Boberg and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2023
Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership. But that company has not existed since 2006. That year, the real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, records show. Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company – between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years – and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.
Russians Boasted That Just 1% of Fake Social Profiles Are Caught, Leak Shows
MSN – Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 4/16/2023
The Russian government has become far more successful at manipulating social media and search engine rankings than previously known, according to documents recently leaked on the chat app Discord. The Russian operators boast they are detected by social networks only about one percent of the time, one document says. A board set up to coordinate U.S. government policy on disinformation was disbanded last year after questions were raised about its purpose and a campaign was aimed at the person who had been selected to lead it.
Washington Used to Abhor Talking About Mental Health. No More.
MSN – Myah Ward (Politico) | Published: 4/17/2023
For six weeks, while U.S. Sen. John Fetterman received treatment for clinical depression at Walter Reed Medical Center, handwritten cards poured into office. His staff fielded phone calls from constituents passing along well wishes. Others called simply to thank him for being upfront about his condition. The reaction has been, overall, a pleasant surprise to Fetterman’s team, which worried about their boss and felt anxious about how the public would respond to revelations he has depression. What they and others have discovered is the country is increasingly open about it. And the politics are changing around it.
Democrats Still Face Feinstein Dilemma as Replacement Bid Fails
MSN – Liz Goodwin, Maeve Reston, and Cleve Wooten Jr. (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023
Democrats’ plan to replace ailing U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee fell apart amid Republican opposition, leaving the party still grappling with a dilemma over stalled judicial nominees that has inflamed some in the Democratic base and complicated the race to succeed her in California. The powerful committee, which is probing allegations of financial conflicts-of-interest against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also lacks the votes to issue subpoenas in her absence.
DeSantis Group Plans Field Program, Showing the Expanding Role of Super PACs
MSN – Michael Scherer, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Ashley Parker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/19/2023
Never Back Down, a technically independent super PAC that unlike federal candidates can accept donations of any value from wealthy individuals and corporations, is organizing and funding efforts to assist Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his yet unannounced campaign for president. The arrangement marks a new frontier in the rapidly shifting campaign finance landscape that governs presidential bids, as outside groups allied with candidates behave more and more like traditional campaigns.
Becerra Violated Hatch Act by Advocating for Senator’s Election, Report Finds
MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023
The Office of Special Counsel determined Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra violated a law that restricts political activities of federal employees when he advocated for the election of U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event. In a letter relaying the finding to President Biden, Special Counsel Henry Kerner said Becerra violated the Hatch Act when he spoke “in his official capacity” at the institute’s annual awards gala in September.
A New Smithsonian Boss Settled Multiple Employee Retaliation Lawsuits
MSN – Manuel Roig-Franzia and Thomas Floyd (Washington Post) | Published: 4/20/2023
When the Smithsonian Institution announced the selection of Nancy Yao to be the founding director of the new American Women’s History Museum planned for the National Mall or alongside the Tidal Basin, the timing seemed apt – it was national Women’s History Month. But in some corners of the museum world, the choice of Yao has evoked uncomfortable echoes of a recent and traumatic period in the history of American women: the national reckoning over sexual harassment brought on by the #MeToo movement.
Fox Was Resigned to a Tough Trial. Then, a Secret Mediator Stepped In.
MSN – Sarah Ellison, Josh Dawsey, and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 4/19/2023
For months, as the pretrial proceedings wore on and the embarrassing internal messages kept spilling into public view, executives at Fox News resigned themselves to a slog of a trial followed by a possible loss before a jury in the $1.6 billion lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems. But at a pre-trial hearing, Judge Eric Davis asked the lawyers for both companies to try to work out their differences. After the jury was seated and before opening arguments could begin, Davis announced, “The parties have resolved the case.”
Billionaire Harlan Crow Bought Property from Clarence Thomas. The Justice Didn’t Disclose the Deal.
ProPublica – Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 4/13/2023
Businessperson Harlan Crow purchased three properties belonging to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, in a transaction worth more than $100,000 that Thomas never reported. The 2014 real estate deal shines a new light on Thomas’s decades old relationship with Crow, a real estate magnate and longtime financier for conservative causes. That relationship and the material benefits received by Thomas have fueled calls for an official ethics investigation. A disclosure law requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000.
If Tennessee’s Legislature Looks Broken, It’s Not Alone
Yahoo News – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 4/13/2023
Nationwide, candidates for roughly four of every 10 state legislative seats run unopposed in general elections. And across the country, one-party control of state Legislatures, compounded by hyper-partisan politics, widespread gerrymandering, an urban-rural divide, and uncompetitive races, has made dysfunction more the rule than the exception. The lack of competition means incumbent lawmakers face few consequences for their conduct. Their legislative actions are driven in large part by the fraction of partisans who determine their fates in primary elections, the only contests where they face serious opposition.
From the States and Municipalities
Europe – EU Parliament Tightens Lobbying Rules for Ex-MEPs
Macau Business – Agence France Presse | Published: 4/17/2023
The European Parliament will prohibit former members from lobbying legislators for six months after leaving office. The reform comes as the Parliament grapples with the fallout from the scandal involving the alleged bribery of members said to have been paid to push the interests of Qatar and Morocco.
Canada – Ontario NDP Set to Try to Tighten Family Gift Rules after Ford Stag and Doe
Global News – Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello | Published: 4/17/2023
The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) will introduce legislation aimed at closing a loophole that allows family members of politicians to receive gifts from people attempting to influence government policy, bringing the province’s conflict-of-interest rules in line with its federal counterparts. NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she was calling for the new rules after it was reported that several developers, considered to be “personal friends,” attended a fundraising event for Premier Doug Ford’s daughter.
Arizona – Fight to Ban State Benefits for Lobby Group Dies – Again
Arizona Capitol Times – Camryn Sanchez | Published: 4/18/2023
State Sen. Steve Kaiser revived a long-running fight at the Legislature to block employees of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns from getting state retirement benefits. The league and a few other non-government groups were not allowed to get State Retirement System benefits until 2004, when the law was changed to accommodate another group, but Kaiser argues that is not an appropriate use of state funds. He also insisted he is not out for revenge although the League opposed some of his bills this session, although the League thinks differently.
Arizona – Effort to Return Ousted Arizona Lawmaker to House Seat
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 4/18/2023
Local Republican Party officials want former Arizona Rep. Liz Harris restored to the legislative seat from which she was just ousted. But whether that is legally or politically possible remains unclear. As required by law, precinct committee members submitted three names to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to choose a replacement. In addition to Harris, the committee members chose Julie Willoughby, who lost to Harris in last year’s GOP primary by 270 votes, and Steve Steele.
California – SFMTA Commissioner Admits She Illegally Lobbied City Staff
Mission Local – Joe Rivano Barros | Published: 4/18/2023
Gwyneth Borden, the vice chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, and a member of two different city commissions over the course of 15 years, was censured by the city Ethics Commission. A proposed settlement lays out the case that she spent six months illegally lobbying city staff, planning commissioners, and a city supervisor on behalf of a restaurant that paid her $12,500.
California – Santa Clara Official Indicted on Felony Perjury Charge Related to 49ers Probe
MSN – Ron Kroichick and Lance Williams (San Francisco Chronicle) | Published: 4/14/2023
A Santa Clara City Council member and former mayoral candidate who received campaign contributions from the San Francisco 49ers was indicted for allegedly lying about leaking information to a team employee. Anthony Becker was indicted for perjury in connection with allegedly leaking a secret civil grand jury report to the 49ers’ chief lobbyist. He also was charged with failing to perform his official duty. That charge alleged Becker breached confidentiality of a grand jury’s watchdog report, which criticized the 49ers’ heavy involvement in local politics.
California – Judge Declares Mistrial in Bribery Case of Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan
Yahoo News – Michael Finnegan (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 4/13/2023
A judge declared a mistrial in the federal bribery prosecution of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan after doctors confirmed his attorney needs months to recover from a recent hospitalization. Chan is the last defendant to face trial in a corruption scandal that exposed pervasive graft in the city’s byzantine process for approving real estate projects in downtown Los Angeles.
Colorado – House Passes Caps for Candidate Contributions in Colorado’s Local Elections
Colorado Springs Gazette – Hannah Metzger (Colorado Politics) | Published: 4/18/2023
The Colorado House approved a bill to establish a statewide limit on contributions made to candidates in local elections, sending the proposal to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 1245 would cap donations from individuals and political parties at $400 and contributions from small-donor committees at $4,000 in municipal elections, among other records and reporting requirements. Proponents said it is intended to decrease the role of money and wealthy individual donors in local elections, while critics said it would put more administrative burden on local governments and violate local control.
Colorado – New Bill Aims to Stop Colorado Utilities from Spending Ratepayer Money on Politics
Energy and Policy Institute – Joe Smyth | Published: 4/20/2023
A new bill in Colorado would stop investor-owned utility companies from using ratepayer money to fund lobbying, trade associations, promotional advertising, and other political influence efforts. The bill and hearings followed months of pressure from ratepayers on utilities, regulators, and policymakers in response to high gas and electricity bills this winter driven by high methane gas prices, and increased public scrutiny of how utilities fund their political influence efforts in Colorado.
Florida – Corruption Trial Begins for Man Who Almost Beat DeSantis
MSN – Brendan Farrington (Associated Press) | Published: 4/18/2023
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum pocketed illegal campaign contributions because he was having a hard time paying for his lifestyle after quitting his job to run for governor in 2018, a prosecutor said as a corruption trial began. Gillum had a large mortgage, was making payments on two expensive cars, and was paying private school tuition for his children when he quit his $120,000-a-year job at People for the American Way to run for the Democratic nomination for governor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan said in opening statements.
Florida – Ex-Venezuelan Treasurer, Husband Sentenced to 15 Years in Miami Bribery Case
Yahoo News – Jay Weaver (Miami Herald) | Published: 4/19/2023
A federal judge sent a former Venezuelan national treasurer and her husband to prison for 15 years after they were convicted of accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for lucrative government contracts and then moving some of their illicit money to Miami in an unprecedented foreign corruption case. In addition to prison time, the judge imposed a financial forfeiture penalty of $136 million for Claudia Díaz Guillen and her husband, Adrian Velásquez, and an additional fine of $75,000 each to be paid to the U.S. government.
Georgia – Former Executive Pleads Guilty to Bribing Atlanta Officials
Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 4/19/2023
A former executive for a longtime city of Atlanta vendor pleaded guilty to paying bribes in exchange for millions of dollars in city contracts and to bribing an official in a neighboring county to get business there. Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari also pleaded guilty to failing to pay more than $1.5 million in taxes. He is the latest in a string of people, including numerous former Atlanta officials, to plead guilty or be convicted by a jury as part of a federal investigation into corruption during former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. Reed himself was never charged with wrongdoing.
Indiana – Donor Privacy or Secrecy? Nonprofit Disclosure Bill Nears Law
Indiana Capital Chronicle – Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | Published: 4/17/2023
State and local governments in Indiana could not require nonprofits to disclose information about their donors under a bill in the state Legislature. House Bill 1212 would block all levels of government from forcing nonprofits to hand over “personal information” – defined as any compilation of data identifying nonprofit members, supporters, volunteers, or donors. It would additionally ban the public release of that information. The bill treads a narrow path between broad protections for donors and nonprofits and a detailed list of exceptions.
Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds Must Comply with Public Records Law, Iowa Supreme Court Rules
MSN – William Morris (Des Moines Register) | Published: 4/14/2023
A lawsuit accusing Gov. Kim Reynolds of failing to follow Iowa’s public records law can continue, the state Supreme Court ruled, saying the governor’s office can be sued just like any other public entity for not producing requested documents in a timely way. The decision came in a suit by three plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, who accused Reynolds’ office of “stonewalling” public records requests, in some cases for more than a year.
Kansas – Gov. Laura Kelly Signs Compromise Bill to Change Ethics Commission Subpoenas, Procedures
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 4/14/2023
Gov. Laura Kelly signed a compromise effort to change the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission’s subpoena powers, as well as certain procedures in the agency charged with overseeing campaign finance and ethics matters. The move is a less aggressive version of a bill that received pushback from commission Executive Director Mark Skoglund, who criticized it for potentially allowing behavior under investigation in a major probe into legislative Republicans, county party officials, and interest groups.
Kentucky – Craft Claims Ignorance of Husband’s $1.5M Campaign Donation. Election Agency to Review
MSN – Austin Horn (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 4/19/2023
The biggest source of funding for Commonwealth PAC, a group supporting Kelly Craft’s campaign for governor, is her husband Joe Craft, who gave the group $1.5 million. Kentucky Registry of Election Finance Executive Director John Steffen said it “certainly raises concerns about potential coordination” between Craft’s campaign and the PAC, which would be a violation of state law. When asked if she knew about her husband dropping such a large amount of money into the PAC, Craft said she did not know who funded the group.
Michigan – Vendor Admits Bribing Madison Heights School Leader to Win Millions in Contracts
Yahoo News – Tresa Baldas (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 4/14/2023
Contractor John David pleaded guilty to funneling thousands of dollars in bribes to a Madison Heights school board president who used the money on Florida trips and a boat slip, perks Albert Morrison got for helping his friend secure $3.1 million worth of school contracts. Prosecutors allege David paid $561,000 in bribes to Morrison, though the vendor did not admit to that amount in his plea agreement or in court.
Missouri – Missouri Lawmakers Target Revolving Door at State Lottery
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 4/19/2023
The former head of the Missouri Lottery left her post last year, but Republican lawmakers are not done battling over her tenure. After stripping funding for advertising from the Lottery in recent years, members of the House Budget Committee heard testimony on a proposal that would bar Lottery officials from working or lobbying for companies that do business with the state agency. The measure is a response to former Director May Scheve Reardon, who left the top job at the Lottery to take a job with a company that sells materials related to the Lottery’s scratch off ticket business.
Montana – Lawmakers Vote Down Proposed Changes to ’24 Senate Election
Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 4/19/2023
A proposal to rewrite the rules for the 2024 election for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s seat went down on a nearly unanimous committee vote after a Republican lawmaker said had been heavily lobbied by voters to oppose it. The legislation would have created an election in which candidates run together in the same primary, and then the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election. the proposal was written to only apply to Montana’s 2024 U.S. Senate race, earning accusations of partisan chicanery by the GOP.
Montana – Lawmakers Move to Slash Timeline for Prosecuting Campaign Finance Violations
Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 4/14/2023
House Bill 947 would cut the time allowed to pursue campaign finance violations in Montana to two years, instead of the current four-year period allowed for those cases to take shape. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Nikolokakos, told a Senate committee the legislation would bring the timeline closer to that of some other types of cases, like property damage. Former Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said that timeline would have prevented him from pursuing a high-profile case against Art Wittich, who was found guilty in 2016 of illegally accepting corporate campaign contributions and illegally coordinating with a political group.
Nebraska – Nebraska Legislature Slow to Adopt Ethics Changes in the Year After Groene’s Resignation
Omaha World Herald – Erin Bamer | Published: 4/17/2023
It has been over a year since former state Sen. Mike Groene resigned amid allegations of workplace misconduct, and the Nebraska Legislature has not adopted many changes aimed at heading off future scandals. Some changes may be on the way, as the state’s Executive Board prepares to vote on a list of recommendations made by an interim ethics committee. But lawmakers are split in their views on whether these suggestions are sufficient. Groene resigned after news broke that he took photos of a former female staff member without her knowledge.
New Mexico – Ethics Allegations Move Forward Against State Treasurer Laura Montoya
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 4/17/2023
The general counsel for the State Ethics Commission found probable cause to support allegations that Treasurer Laura Montoya violated New Mexico’s campaign finance and financial disclosure laws while running for office. The case will go before a hearing officer. The allegations center on whether Montoya failed to properly disclose the source of $10,000 in contributions and incorrectly filled out paperwork disclosing her personal finances.
New York – N.Y. Budget Chief’s Exit Prompts Inquiry into Covid Contract Deals
DNyuz – Jay Root (New York Times) | Published: 4/15/2023
The departure of two state officials in New York is now part of an inspector general review. As the deadline drew near for the state’s $220-billion-plus budget, it was announced that Sandra Beattie, the acting budget director who assembled the proposal, was being replaced. Beattie’s exit triggered a state investigation into tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money used for no-bid contract expansions that went to private consultants under pandemic emergency decrees. Upon leaving, Beattie turned in a cellphone that had been wiped clean, making it difficult for investigators to discover if she had used it to hide potentially damaging communications.
North Dakota – Bill for Changes Sought by North Dakota Ethics Panel Goes to Burgum
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 4/13/2023
Proposed changes to the North Dakota Ethics Commission’s procedures were sent to Gov. Doug Burgum. Senate Bill 2408 includes extending the time frame to notify an accused person of an ethics complaint, and adding criteria for who can make complaints. The ethics panel originally sought to add about 8,960 executive branch employees to its jurisdiction over “public officials,” but a Senate committee cut that proposed expansion from the bill.
Ohio – Former Columbus City Hall Lobbyist to Be Resentenced in Bribery Scheme
MSN – Daniel Griffin (WCMH) | Published: 4/15/2023
A federal appeals court ruled a former Columbus lobbyist must be resentenced. John Raphael faced up to 20 years in prison for accepting bribes, but U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson sentenced him to just one day and then suspended that sentence.
Oklahoma – Okla. Governor Calls on Officials to Resign After ‘Horrid’ Audio Emerges
MSN – Jonathan Edwards (Washington Post) | Published: 4/18/2023
County officials dispatched with the agenda and ushered citizens out of a recent public meeting in southeastern Oklahoma, they spoke among themselves without realizing they were being secretly recorded. It was reported some officials hinted at assassinating a journalist who had reported on their alleged misconduct, and a county commissioner lamented about how they could no longer yank Black people out of the jail, “take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a … rope,” according to McCurtain Gazette-News.
Pennsylvania – Voters Are Still Getting Mailers from an Outside Group Boosting Jeff Brown for Mayor Despite a Judge’s Order
MSN – Anna Orso (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/19/2023
The nonprofit that was sued by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics over allegations it illegally coordinated with mayoral candidate Jeff Brown says it can continue circulating literature ahead of the primary election, under certain circumstances. But the Board of Ethics disagrees on what those ads can look like, and the matter will likely need to be settled in court. A judge told leaders of A Better Philadelphia and a PAC that it funds they must, at least temporarily, stop spending money to influence the May 16 primary election. But some residents have received mailed advertisements from the nonprofit recently.
South Carolina – SC GOP Consultant Richard Quinn’s Guilty Plea Brings Closure to Statehouse Probe
Charleston Post and Courier – Caitlin Ashworth | Published: 4/19/2023
Richard Quinn, once considered South Carolina’s most powerful Republican political consultant, pleaded guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges tied to the investigation into corruption at the statehouse. Quinn entered an Alford plea, where he did not admit guilt but agreed a jury would likely convict him. The charges came after Quinn testified before a grand jury as part of an agreement to drop previous charges in the corruption probe that examined conflicts among lawmakers and consultants, along with state agencies and large businesses, that lobby the General Assembly.
Vermont – Full Disclosure: Vermont’s legislative ethics forms are hard to find, out of date and limited in scope
VTDigger.org – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 4/18/2023
In Vermont, lawmakers and candidates must file reports about their financial interests. But the information, while technically available to the public, is challenging both to unearth and decipher – in some cases coming in the form of barely legible handwritten documents. Some of those are available only by going to the statehouse in Montpelier and knowing who to ask. Of the 48 states that require candidates to file such disclosures, Vermont is the only one that has no statutory mechanisms to enforce its own rules, said Christina Sivret, executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission.
April 14, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 14, 2023
National/Federal Appeals Court Upholds ‘Obstruction’ Charge Used Against Hundreds of Jan. 6 Rioters, for Now ABC News – Ryan Reilly | Published: 4/7/2023 A federal appeals court panel affirmed the government’s use of an obstruction charge used against hundreds of defendants arrested […]
Appeals Court Upholds ‘Obstruction’ Charge Used Against Hundreds of Jan. 6 Rioters, for Now
ABC News – Ryan Reilly | Published: 4/7/2023
A federal appeals court panel affirmed the government’s use of an obstruction charge used against hundreds of defendants arrested in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol, though the complex opinion appears likely to result in additional litigation and leaves questions about the future of the use of the statute. A three-judge panel upheld the use of the obstruction of an official proceeding charge against defendants who assaulted law enforcement during the attack.
NPR Quits Elon Musk’s Twitter Over ‘Government-Funded’ Label
ABC News – Timothy O’Brien (Associated Press) | Published: 4/12/2023
National Public Radio (NPR) is quitting Twitter after the social media platform owned by Elon Musk stamped NPR’s account with labels the news organization says undermine its credibility. Twitter labeled NPR’s main account as “state-affiliated media,” a term also used to identify media outlets controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments, such as Russia and China. Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media.”
Judge Limits Fox’s Options for Defense in Dominion Trial
DNyuz – Jeremy Peters (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
A judge ruled Fox News could not argue it broadcast false information about Dominion Voting Systems on the basis that the allegations were newsworthy, limiting a key line of defense for the network as it faces the beginning of a potentially costly defamation trial. The judge also ruled Dominion could not refer to the assault on the Capitol except in very narrow circumstances, saying he did not want jurors to be prejudiced by events that were not relevant to the central question in the case: did Fox air wild claims about Dominion’s purported involvement in a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump knowing they were lies?
New Pressure to End Old Senate Practice After Mississippi Judicial Pick Is Blocked
DNyuz – Carl Hulse (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Democrats hoped they were on the verge of a judicial breakthrough when President Biden nominated a Baton Rouge lawyer for a U.S. District Court vacancy and the two Republican senators from Louisiana offered no objections. Getting Republican senators to sign off on Biden nominees in their home states has been a struggle, slowing the Democratic drive to fill as many judicial slots as possible. But U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican of Mississippi, then said she would not allow the nomination of Scott Colom, a candidate for a court vacancy in the state, to move forward, citing his past political support from the left, among other reasons.
Witnesses Asked About Trump’s Handling of Map with Classified Information
DNyuz – Maggie Haberman, Adam Goldman, and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 4/12/2023
Investigators are asking witnesses whether former President Trump showed off to aides and visitors a map he took with him when he left office that contains sensitive intelligence information. The map has been just one focus of the Justice Department probe into Trump’s handling of classified documents after he departed the White House. One person briefed on the matter said investigators have asked about Trump showing the map while aboard a plane. Another said investigators appeared to believe Trump showed the map to at least one adviser after leaving office.
Special Counsel Focuses on Trump Fundraising Off False Election Claims
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, Rosalind Helderman, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
Federal prosecutors probing the attack on the U.S. Capitol have in recent weeks sought a wide range of documents related to fundraising after the 2020 election, looking to determine if former President Trump or his advisers scammed donors by using false claims about voter fraud to raise money. The fundraising prong of the investigation is focused on money raised during the period between November 3, 2020, and the end of Trump’s time in office, and prosecutors are said to be interested in whether anyone associated with the operation violated wire fraud laws, which make it illegal to make false representations over email to swindle people out of money.
Meta Won’t Say If Politicians Can Post AI-Made Fakes Without Warnings
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/7/2023
Political campaign operatives wrote to Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, asking how the company planned to address AI-generated fake images on its platforms. The inquiry testified to growing concern about the technology’s impact on American democracy among some of the top strategists preparing for the 2024 election. A Meta employee replied to the operatives saying such images, rather than being treated as manipulated media and removed under certain conditions, were being reviewed by independent fact-checkers who work with the company to examine misinformation and apply warning labels to dubious content.
New Report Outlines the Deep Political Polarization’s Slow and Steady March
MSN – Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 4/8/2023
New research by David Wasserman, senor editor at the Cook Political Report, examines all 435 U.S. House districts to explain the geographical roots of political polarization and how hollowed-out the political middle has become. Although legislative gerrymandering plays a key role in letting representatives choose their constituents, the nation’s “urban/rural polarization” has been a much bigger factor over the past 25 years, Wasserman wrote. “The electorate has simply become much more homogenous than it used to be,” he said.
Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire
ProPublica – Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 4/6/2023
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips around the globe for more than two decades, including travel on a superyacht and private jet, from a prominent Republican donor without disclosing them. ProPublica reported on an array of trips funded by Harlan Crow, a Dallas businessperson. There are few restrictions on what gifts justices can accept. But Thomas’s failure to report the flights appears to violate a law that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts, ethics law experts said.
Pressured by Their Base on Abortion, Republicans Strain to Find a Way Forward
Yahoo News – Jonathan Weisman (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Republican leaders have followed an emboldened base of conservative activists into what increasingly looks like a political cul-de-sac on the issue of abortion – a tightly confined absolutist position that has limited their options ahead of the 2024 election season, even as some in the party push for moderation. Some Republicans are warning the uncompromising position of their party’s activist base could be leading them over an electoral cliff next year.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Republican Said She ‘Barely’ Met with Lobbyists, but Her Calendar Shows Otherwise
Arizona Mirror – Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Published: 4/10/2023
Arizona Sen. Justine Wadsack recently said she “barely” meets with lobbyists after she faced criticism from gun control lobbyists who she refused to meet, but a copy of her legislative calendar shows the lawmaker meets regularly with lobbyists and special interest groups. Public records revealed the majority of Wadsacks’ meetings were with lobbyists, many of whom do not reside in her legislative district. Wadsack’s calendar listed four meetings with voters from her district, and more than 30 meetings with lobbyists and special interest groups.
Arizona – Arizona House Republicans Expel One of Their Own
DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 4/12/2023
The Arizona House expelled a Republican lawmaker who organized a presentation by an insurance agent who made unsubstantiated accusations that a wide range of politicians, judges, and public officials of both parties took bribes from a Mexican drug cartel. Rep. Liz Harris’s ouster came a day after the House Ethics Committee determined Harris violated legislative rules by inviting a witness to present false testimony.
Arizona – Printer Glitches in Ariz. Election Not Due to Malfeasance, Review Finds
MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2023
The combination of heavier paper and longer ballots was responsible for problems tabulating votes at dozens of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona, during last November’s midterm elections. The report’s public release marks the latest chapter in the board of supervisors’ quest to tamp down conspiracy theories about elections in the county, which is home to more than half the state’s voters. The printer problems caused confusion on Election Day as tabulators at the affected sites rejected faulty ballots.
California – What Happened on Ash Street? How a Criminal Probe into Suspected Conspiracy to ‘Defraud the City’ Was Settled with a Single Misdemeanor
MSN – Jeff McDonald (San Diego Union Tribune) | Published: 4/9/2023
When an investigator for District Attorney Summer Stephan was seeking warrants to search Jason Hughes’ home and office, he described a far-reaching conspiracy to swindle San Diego taxpayers out of millions of dollars through two separate real estate deals. Nearly two years later, Hughes pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, the only defendant in a criminal probe that had earlier implicated some of the most powerful elected officials and political donors in the city. Legal experts and pundits are debating what drove judges to push for settlements in the criminal and civil cases and why San Diego officials agreed to them.
California – Bredefeld, Chavez Slap Back at Fresno County Campaign Transfer Limit. It’s Heading to Court
Yahoo News – Tim Sheehan (Fresno Bee) | Published: 4/12/2023
Two Fresno City Council members filed a motion asking a judge to find unconstitutional a county ordinance limiting what they can transfer into their pending campaigns for county office. Fresno County adopted an ordinance in 2020 that put a $30,000 cap on transfers or contributions from a candidate’s campaign account for non-county elective offices into their campaign for county offices. In its lawsuit the county is asking a court for declaratory relief and decide whether that limit can be applied.
Colorado – Tina Peters, Trump Loyalist and Former Clerk, Is Sentenced in Obstruction Case
DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Tina Peters, who was barred from overseeing elections in a Colorado county after her indictment on charges relating to tampering with voting equipment, was sentenced to home detention after she was convicted in a separate obstruction case. Peters, the former clerk in Mesa County, was given four months of house arrest and 120 hours of community service. A jury convicted her of stonewalling investigators from the district attorney’s office when they tried to seize an iPad from her that she had used to record a court proceeding.
District of Columbia – D.C. Housing Director’s $41,250 Bonus at Issue in Council Hearing
MSN – Steve Thompson (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) Director Brenda Donald recently received a $41,250 bonus on top of the $275,000 she makes annually to lead the embattled authority. She was questioned about the bonus by city council member Donald White. He also raised concerns that the DCHA is not sufficiently transparent about its affairs. At the routine oversight hearing, Donald told White that who approved the bonus and by what rationale was not his business as chair of the Housing Committee.
Hawaii – Ex-Hawaii Lawmaker Gets 2 Years in Prison for Taking Bribes
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 4/6/2023
Former state Rep. Ty Cullen was sentenced to two years in prison for taking cash bribes of more than $25,000 as well as payments in the form of poker chips totaling $22,000 between 2015 and 2021 as part of a scheme to influence legislation involving wastewater and cesspools. He was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine on top of a $23,000 forfeiture. Cullen assisted federal prosecutors as part of an ongoing investigation into public corruption in Hawaii.
Hawaii – Campaign Cash Flowed to Hawaii Senators Just Before an Energy Bill Vote. Reform Measures Won’t Stop It
Honolulu Civil Beat – Stewart Yerton | Published: 4/10/2023
Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit registered lobbyists from donating to lawmakers during the legislative session. Individuals and entities who are not registered lobbyists, like the energy company executives, would still be allowed to donate during a session. A bill that would have prohibited all contributions was defeated. The bill is headed to a conference committee, where lawmakers will try to work out differences in House and Senate versions.
Illinois – Chicago Will Host 2024 Democratic Convention as Party Returns to Midwest
MSN – Katie Glueck and Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2023
Chicago will host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, elevating a large liberal city in the heart of the Midwest, a critical battleground region. In the final deliberations, Chicago beat out New York – another progressive city whose advocates had boasted of its infrastructure and fundraising resources – as well as Atlanta, in a presidential battleground state. Republicans plan to hold their national convention in Milwaukee, underscoring the fierce competition for the Midwest on the cusp of another presidential election.
Illinois – Federal Judge Sentences Longtime Political Operative to Probation in Corruption Probe
Yahoo News – Madeline Buckly and Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 4/12/2023
A federal judge lamented the pervasiveness of public corruption in Illinois as she ordered a one-year probation sentence for a longtime Chicago fire inspector and precinct captain who admitted to lying to the FBI in connection with a bribery probe into former state Sen. Martin Sandoval. Rudy Acosta pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI in a series of interviews about its investigation into Sandoval and other elected officials. The judge stressed the importance of sending a message to those in positions of power to deter official misconduct but took into account Acosta’s health issues and his “extensive” cooperation in FBI probes.
Kansas – Judge Won’t Toss Subpoenas Directed at Kansas Republican Officials Amid Ethics Probe
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 4/11/2023
A judge declined to toss a sweeping series of subpoenas issued to local Republican Party leaders, clearing a potential path for the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to be able to be enforce the documents in court. The probe into the campaign finance activities of prominent legislators and state GOP officials has become increasingly open in recent months, with the ethics panel going to court to enforce the subpoenas and drawing pushback.
Kansas – Wichita Council OKs Airport Marketing Contract, Will Talk More About Conflicts of Interest
Yahoo News – Michael Kelly (Wichita Eage) | Published: 4/11/2023
The Wichita City Council approved a media buying contract for Eisenhower National Airport with Copp Media. The contract, approved a week after the council voted it down, includes new language prohibiting Copp from taking on mayoral or city council candidates as clients while doing business with the city. The council also voted to schedule a workshop where staff will present a policy for discussion about the ethics of double-dipping in city campaign work and city contract work.
Maryland – Chaos Erupts in House of Delegates as Tension Grips Final Moments of General Assembly Session
Maryland Matters – William Zorzi | Published: 4/11/2023
The Maryland General Assembly ended the 2023 session with high drama in both chambers as the final minutes in the House of Delegates devolved into a partisan shouting match, and the Senate president interrupted a motion for final adjournment with a last-seconds vote. The House descended into pandemonium in the final minutes amid a debate over a bill that would prohibit police from stopping or searching a person based solely on the odor of marijuana.
Michigan – Feds Unveil Corruption Charges in Mich. Marijuana Probe Involving Rick Johnson
Detroit News – Robert Snell and Craig Mauger | Published: 4/6/2023
Rick Johnson, the former chair of Michigan’s now-defunct Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, pleaded guilty alongside three others as part of a public corruption probe surrounding the state’s system for regulating medical marijuana. Johnson, who also served as House speaker, was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for licenses to launch marijuana facilities, federal prosecutors said. Also pleading guilty were two lobbyists who were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery – Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown.
New Jersey – Advocates See Few Upsides to Recent Pay-to-Play Overhaul
New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 4/10/2023
Good government advocates warn changes to New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” laws under the Elections Transparency Act will enable corruption. Advocates warn the campaign finance bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law will weaken safeguards meant to prevent local and state officials from steering public contracts to donors. The law ends local “pay-to-play” ordinances that are often stricter than state law, permits the executive branch to award contracts through a system that critics have decried as a loophole, and removes donations to political parties from the list of those that invoke the anti-corruption protections.
New Jersey – N.J. Town Approves Legal Weed Business Represented by State Democratic Chair’s Lobbying Firm
Newark Star Ledger – Jelani Gibson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/13/2023
The East Orange City Council approved a cannabis dispensary applicant represented by a lobbying firm belonging to New Jersey Democratic Party Chairperson Leroy Jones Jr. while rejecting a local applicant who had pointed out that connection, a move that drew scorn from residents at a council meeting. Precious Osagie-Erese, co-founder of the local applicant for a dispensary, Roll-Up Life, had been critical of Nimbus Holdings being represented in the municipality’s selection process by Jones’ lobbying firm, 1868 Public Affairs.
New York – Key Campaign Player for NYC Mayor Adams Raised Reelection Funds While Taking Money to Lobby His Office, Sparking Ethics Concerns
MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 4/9/2023
New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ campaign fundraising manager solicited donations for the mayor’s reelection bid last year while simultaneously being paid to lobby his administration on behalf of a Manhattan property owner with business before the city, according to a review of public records. There is no indication the aide, Brianna Suggs, ran afoul of any laws in playing the dual roles.
New York – Manhattan D.A. Sues Congress Members for ‘Brazen’ Attack on Trump Prosecution
MSN – Shayna Jacobs and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2023
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and others for what the prosecutor says is a brazen and unconstitutional attack by members of Congress on the prosecution and investigation of former President Trump. The civil complaint in seeks to interrupt an investigation launched by Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Jordan and his committee are trying to obtain confidential investigative materials compiled during the district attorney’s criminal probe.
North Dakota – Bills to Boost Campaign Finance Transparency Hit Dead End in North Dakota Legislature
Fargo Forum – Jeremy Turley | Published: 4/10/2023
A recent rise in nebulous political spending has increased the desire among lawmakers for reforming North Dakota’s campaign finance law, but most measures to expand reporting requirements fell flat this year. A unique feature of thew law means groups designated as multicandidate committees are not required to list the recipients of their expenditures.
Oregon – Oregon Secretary of State’s Office Uses Business Registry to Try to Drum Up Support for Budget Request
Oregon Capital Chronicle – Julia Shumway | Published: 4/10/2023
An email from a state division director asking customers to advocate for the agency’s budget raised eyebrows among business owners and lawmakers. The request comes as legislative budget writers urge agencies to trim their budgets, keeping open positions vacant and spending less amid economic uncertainty. Corporation Division Director Eloisa Miller emailed everyone who has registered a business in Oregon asking them to submit written testimony supporting the request.
Pennsylvania – The Philadelphia Board of Ethics Is Accusing Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown of Illegally Coordinating with a Super PAC
MSN – Chris Brennan, Sean Collins Walsh, and Anna Orsco (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 4/10/2023
The Philadelphia Board of Ethics accused a super PAC called For a Better Philadelphia and a nonprofit of the same name of coordinating with mayoral candidate Jeff Brown to circumvent the city’s contribution limits. The board asked Common Pleas Court Judge Joshua Roberts to issue an emergency order prohibiting the groups from spending money to influence the May 16 primary election and cancel any planned television advertising or other efforts to support Brown’s campaign. The board is also seeking $162,000 in fines to be paid jointly by the two groups for repeatedly violating the city’s campaign finance laws as part of the alleged scheme.
Pennsylvania – How a Pa. City Manager Allegedly Stole Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars with Virtually No Oversight
Spotlight PA – Min Xian and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 4/10/2023
Herm Suplizio, the manager of DuBois, a small city about two hours from Pittsburgh, was arrested for stealing more than $600,000 from public accounts over which he had signatory control. The scheme was so elaborate, according to officials, that investigators with backgrounds in organized and financial crimes were brought in to untangle what charging documents describe as a web of money moving in and out of accounts, with little oversight or accountability. Residents are wondering if Suplizio is convicted, how could such a large theft in a place so small occur without anyone noticing?
Tennessee – Black Lawmaker Who Was Expelled Reinstated to Tennessee Seat
Associated Press News – Jonathan Mattise, Travis Loller, and Kimberlee Kruesi | Published: 4/11/2023
One of the two Black Democrats who were expelled from the Republican-led Tennessee House was reinstated after Nashville’s governing council voted to send him back to the Legislature. The unanimous vote by the Metropolitan Council took only a few minutes to restore Rep. Justin Jones to office just four days after Republicans stripped him of his seat. The expulsions made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and propelled the ousted lawmakers into the national spotlight.
Tennessee – In Tennessee, Second Expelled Black Democratic Lawmaker Is Reappointed
MSN – Robert Klemko and Karin Brulliard (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
Justin Pearson, one of two Black Democratic lawmakers expelled by Republican representatives for leading a gun-control protest on the Tennessee House floor, was reappointed to the office, returning to his seat after a tumultuous week that deepened partisan rancor in the state and transformed the pair into national political figures. Shelby County commissioners voted unanimously to reinstate Pearson two days after commissioners in Nashville voted unanimously to return the other expelled lawmaker, Justin Jones, to the statehouse.
Tennessee – Tennessee Expulsions Prompt Senate Democrats to Call for DOJ Inquiry
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2023
U.S. Senate Democrats urged the Department of Justice to investigate the expulsions of two state representatives in Tennessee to determine whether their removal violated the Constitution or federal civil rights law. Their letter is the first formal effort by federal lawmakers in response to the removals. The Republican-dominated Tennessee House expelled Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson both Democrats, after they led protesters in chants for gun control from the floor of the chamber.
Tennessee – Judges Block Tennessee Move to Cut Nashville Council in Half
Yahoo News – Jonathan Mattise (Associated Press) | Published: 4/10/2023
The Democratic-leaning city of Nashville’s Metropolitan Council will get to keep all 40 of its seats for now under a temporary decision issued by three state judges. The ruling stymies an effort by state Republican lawmakers to cut the council in half after it blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention from coming to the Music City. Nashville has operated under a combined city-county government system with 40 council members since 1963, when leaders were wrestling with consolidating the city and surrounding county as advocates worked to ensure Black leaders maintained strong representation.
Texas – Texas Senate Approves Ban on Local Governments Using Public Funds on Lobbyists
MSN – Hogan Grace (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 4/12/2023
The Texas Senate approved legislation that would restrict how local governments could fund lobbyists to help them influence proposed state laws and policies moving through the Legislature. Senate Bill 175 would ban cities, counties and school districts from spending public funds to hire registered lobbyists tasked with pressing lawmakers for action. The bill also prohibits political subdivisions from using public funds to pay nonprofit state associations or organizations, such as the Texas Municipal League, that contract registered lobbyists.
Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott Announces He Will Push to Pardon Daniel Perry After Murder Conviction
MSN – Tony Plohetski, Claire Osborn, and Ryan Autullo (Austin American-Statesman) | Published: 4/10/2023
Less than 24 hours after a jury found Daniel Perry guilty of shooting to death a protester, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would pardon the convicted killer as soon as a request “hits my desk.” The unprecedented effort came as Abbott faced growing calls from national conservative figures to undo the conviction. “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or progressive district attorney,” Abbott said in a statement.
Virginia – Hounded by Baseless Voter Fraud Allegations, an Entire County’s Election Staff Quits in Virginia
MSN – Jane Timm (NBC News) | Published: 4/10/2023
Three weeks ago, Buckingham County Registrar Lindsey Taylor, along with two part-time staffers, quit. Their resignations followed a deputy registrar who left in February. The four departures left residents without a functioning registrar’s office; there was no way to register to vote or certify candidate paperwork, at least temporarily. In January, the GOP assumed control of the Buckingham County Electoral Board that oversees Taylor’s office, and local Republicans began advancing baseless voter fraud claims that baffled her. The electoral board made it clear it wanted her out of the job.
Wisconsin – Two Candidates Tied in a Town Election. They Settled It with a Dice Roll.
MSN – Kyle Melnick (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2023
When Nate Bell received a photo of his Wisconsin village’s election results, he was in disbelief. The photo showed he and the other candidate for the village board’s president, Rob Zoschke, had each received 256 votes. Bell wondered how the tie would be resolved. The Village of Sister Bay’s board settled on a game of chance: a dice roll. A dice representing Bell landed on six; Zoschke’s dice stopped on two. Bell’s number was larger, so he was selected as the village’s new president.
April 7, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 7, 2023
National/Federal Attacks on Dominion Voting Persist Despite High-Profile Lawsuits DNyuz – Stuart Thompson | Published: 4/6/2023 Claims that election software companies like Dominion Voting Systems sent helped orchestrate widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been widely debunked in the years since […]
Attacks on Dominion Voting Persist Despite High-Profile Lawsuits
DNyuz – Stuart Thompson | Published: 4/6/2023
Claims that election software companies like Dominion Voting Systems sent helped orchestrate widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been widely debunked in the years since former President Trump and his allies first pushed the theories. But far-right Americans on social media and influencers in the news media have continued in recent weeks and months to make unfounded assertions about the company and its electronic voting machines, pressuring government officials to scrap contracts with Dominion, sometimes successfully.
Feds: Fugees rapper Pras Michel ran global influence-peddling scheme for cash
MSN – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 3/30/2023
In opening arguments, federal prosecutors portrayed rap star Pras Michel as a washed-up, money-hungry entertainer who embarked on a brazen secret-influence scheme aimed at the highest levels of the U.S. government. The trial is a chance for the government to recover from a string of high-profile courtroom defeats it has suffered in recent years as it followed through on promises to crack down on foreign-influence efforts.
Nashville Shooting Exploited by Right to Escalate Anti-Trans Rhetoric
MSN – Fenit Nirappil (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023
Conservative commentators and Republican politicians unleashed a new wave of anti-trans rhetoric following the shooting at a Nashville Christian school that killed six people, escalating a broader backlash to the rising visibility of transgender people in public life. The attempts on the right to connect violence to transgender people come even though transgender people are rarely the perpetrators of mass shootings.
Justice Dept. Said to Have More Evidence of Possible Trump Obstruction at Mar-a-Lago
MSN – Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 4/2/2023
Justice Department investigators have amassed fresh evidence pointing to possible obstruction by former President Trump in the investigation into top-secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, according to people familiar with the matter. The new details highlight the degree to which special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the potential mishandling of hundreds of classified national security papers at Trump’s Florida home and private club has come to focus on the obstruction elements of the case – whether the former president took or directed actions to impede government efforts to collect all the sensitive records.
Dominion’s Historic Defamation Case Against Fox News Will Go to Trial, Judge Rules, in Major Decision Dismantling Key Fox Defenses
MSN – Marshall Cohen (CNN) | Published: 3/31/2023
Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against Fox News will proceed to a jury trial, a judge ruled, in a decision that dismantled several of the network’s key defenses. The network’s highest-ranking executives and most prominent hosts could be called to the stand to testify about the 2020 election lies that were promoted on its programs. One question that jurors will not need to weigh was whether Fox’s claims about Dominion were true or false. “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Superior Court Judge Eric Davis wrote.
Key Senate Dems Want Supreme Court Funding Tied to an Ethics Code for Justices
MSN – Tierny Sneed (CNN) | Published: 4/3/2023
Key Senate Democrats are calling for next year’s funding for the U.S. Supreme Court to be conditioned on the creation of an ethics code for the justices. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who leads the appropriations subcommittee charged with writing the annual funding bill for the judiciary, has expressed support for the idea. Other members of the Democratic caucus are proposing language to be attached to next year’s funding bill that would require the Supreme Court to adopt more transparent processes for recusals and for investigating ethics allegations lodged against the justices.
Twitter Slaps NPR with a Dubious New Tag: ‘State-affiliated media’
MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 4/5/2023
Is NPR “U.S. state-affiliated media”? Twitter and its new owner, Elon Musk, seem to think so. Over NPR’s protests, Twitter placed that label on its account, implying the nonprofit news organization is somehow connected to, if not controlled by, the federal government. The designation puts NPR, which has 8.8 million followers on the site, in the same Twitter category as propaganda outlets like the Russian-government-owned RT and the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper.
Pence Won’t Appeal Ruling That Compels His Grand Jury Testimony on Jan. 6
MSN – Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/5/2023
Former Vice President Mike Pence will not appeal a judge’s ruling that requires him to testify in front of a grand jury exploring the attack on the U.S. Capitol, likely setting up a pivotal moment in the special counsel investigation related to former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Pence’s decision means he will probably testify under oath about Trump’s attempts to pressure him, and he could be a key witness. Trump’s team could still appeal the ruling, but they have lost similar cases previously.
The Price of a Ballot Signature Is Way Up, and Experts Worry It’s Encouraging Fraud
NPR – Ashley Lopez | Published: 4/6/2023
Michigan’s election for governor was upended last year when several Republicans were removed from the primary ballot for problems with their voter signatures. The news highlighted instances of suspected fraud in the process, which experts say could be encouraged by higher rates signature-gathering companies are now charging for their services. As a result, states such as Colorado and California are hoping to crack down on bad actors in the signature-gathering industry.
From the States and Municipalities
Oceania – Government’s Proposed Crackdown on Lobbyists Dismissed as Too Tentative
Radio New Zealand – Staff | Published: 4/4/2023
Following a media investigation into lobbying in New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins commissioned long-term work on regulating the industry, but in the meantime wanted lobbyists to develop their own code of conduct and is removing their swipe card access to Parliament. Hipkins said while there may not be a problem with lobbying in New Zealand, there was the perception of a problem.
Arizona – Legislative Election Committees Catered to Conspiracy Theorists
Arizona Mirror – Caitlin Sievers | Published: 4/5/2023
Republican-controlled committees in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature that were charged with vetting election-reform bills used their time this year to cater to fringe right-wing conspiracy theorists and to approve measures that would make big changes to how elections are run in this state. Both the Senate and House elections committees, chaired by Sen. Wendy Rogers and Rep. Jacqueline Parker, had their last meetings recently. They used their hearings to host presentations by election conspiracy theorists and then to advance legislation that would cater to supposed election problems and alleged fraud at the heart of those conspiracy theories.
Arizona – Legislator Testifies That She Had No Idea Guest Speaker Would Make Bribery Allegations
White Mountain Independent – Bob Christie (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/31/2023
An Arizona lawmaker defending herself against an ethics complaint swore she was not aware ahead of time that an insurance agent planned to present what were later called “unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations” at a legislative hearing. But Rep. Liz Harris’s repeated statements that she did not know what Jacqueline Breger was going to say at a special election hearing appeared to be contradicted by a series of text messages the Ethics Committee released.
California – Planned Construction Could Forever Change the California Capitol’s West Steps. What Would That Mean for Protests and Events?
Capital Public Radio – Nicole Nixon | Published: 4/6/2023
For more than a century, the state Capito’s west steps have been one of the definitive Sacramento and California gathering places. The historic granite steps, which lead to the Capitol’s original entrance and overlook the downtown Mall, have hosted everything from decades of pro- and anti-war demonstrations and the Women’s March to gubernatorial inaugurations. But critics say plans to build an underground visitor’s center on the west side of the Capitol could displace large gatherings for years, or permanently, and forever alter the west steps’ ability to host thousands of people.
California – Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s Mystery ‘Special Advisor’ Raises Legal Concerns, Experts Say
East Bay Times – Grace Hase (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 4/3/2023
Santa Clara resident and small business owner Kirk Vartan has been a special advisor to Mayor Lisa Gillmor for the last three years, but now the city says it was never aware of the appointment and few records between the two exist, sparking concerns about transparency, ethics, and even legal complications. Vartan and Gillmor said the position is volunteer only and he is not paid, and Vartan asserted the city was notified.
California – Mark Ridley-Thomas Found Guilty in Corruption Case
MSN – Matt Hamilton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/30/3023
A longtime Los Angeles politician was convicted on federal corruption charges in a scheme in which prosecutors said he promised to help steer a multimillion-dollar government contract to the University of Southern California (USC) if his son got a scholarship and a teaching job. Mark Ridley-Thomas now faces the possibility of years in federal prison and the permanent loss of his seat on the city council, from which he has been suspended for the last 17 months. The foreperson of the jury said the funneling of a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign committee through USC to a nonprofit led by the politician’s son persuaded jurors to convict.
Colorado – State Increases Campaign Finance Limits
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel – Charles Ashby | Published: 4/6/2023
Voters can give a little more money to state and local candidates under new rules adopted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. In its normal periodic adjustment of campaign contribution limits to account for inflation, donors can give $100 more per election to candidates as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. For contributors to legislative races, the limit goes from $200 to $225 per election, which means a primary race and the general election, among other changes.
Florida – Florida Republicans Poised to Make More Changes to Election Laws
MSN – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 4/3/2023
Florida Senate Republicans released a comprehensive elections bill that includes a provision designed to undercut legal arguments that were made by those who were charged as part of a crackdown on voter fraud. The lengthy bill also changes campaign finance deadlines, speeds up when local officials must scrub voter rolls for dead and ineligible voters, and increases fines on voter registration groups if they break the law.
Florida – DeSantis Wants State Investigation into Disney Power Play
Politico – Andrew Atterbury | Published: 4/3/2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, apparently outflanked by Disney in a tug-of-war over the control over the thousands of acres that is home to theme parks, is now ordering an investigation into how the dynamic shift happened. The governor requested a “thorough review and investigation” by state officials into an agreement reached by the outgoing Walt Disney Co. board aiming to stymie Florida’s efforts to grab greater authority over the company’s special land district near Orlando. That deal swung power away from the new leadership board installed by the governor and created just months ago by the Legislature.
Hawaii – Hawaii Governor Signs 7 Government, Ethics Reform Bills
MSN – Audrey McAvoy (Associated Press) | Published: 3/31/2023
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green signed seven good-government bills drafted in response to news last year that two former state lawmakers had accepted bribes in exchange for influencing legislation. One measure, House Bill 137, would require lobbyists to report not only the general subject they are advocating for but the specific bill number or the identification number of the program they discussed with officials.
Illinois – Brandon Johnson Projected to Win Chicago Mayoral Election
MSN – Kim Bellware, Sabrina Rodriguez, and Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023
Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and former public school teacher, won Chicago’s mayoral runoff. He will succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lost her bid for reelection when she came in third in February’s general election. Analysts said Lightfoot bore the brunt of the blame for an increase in crime across the city. Johnson’s win over Paul Vallas, a conservative Democrat, was a major victory for the liberal wing of the party.
Indiana – City Council Creates Committee to Develop Ethics Commission for Muncie Government
Yahoo News – David Penticuff (Muncie Star Press) | Published: 4/4/2023
The Muncie City Council took an initial step toward establishing a ethics commission to provide oversight and guidance for city government. Council members adopted a resolution creating a nine-member ethics advisory committee of people from outside local government to explore the creation of a commission. A proposed ethics code would govern elected officials, appointees to boards and commissions, city employees, and individuals and entities that have a business relationship with Muncie.
Maine – Penobscot County Commissioner Voted to Give Contract to His Business Associate
Bangor Daily News – Sawyer Loftus | Published: 4/5/2023
The chairperson of the Penobscot County Commission voted to hire a lobbyist he personally worked with as recently as last year. Andre Cushing did not recuse himself from a vote in January for the county to enter into a contract with Patriot Consulting, which is owned and operated by Zachary Lingley, a lobbyist and political operative. The ethics policy states county employees should not carry on county business with a firm in which the county employee has an interest.
Maryland – Roy McGrath Shot Dead in Tennessee as FBI Closed in After Three-Week Search
MSN – Alex Mann and Lee Sanderlin (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/4/2023
Roy McGrath was fatally shot as federal agents sought to arrest him in Tennessee, ending a three-week fugitive search for former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s ex-chief of staff. McGrath was supposed to stand trial on fraud charges in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore on March 13. He never showed up. Prosecutors allege McGrath stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state during his tenure at the helm of the government-owned nonprofit Maryland Environmental Service.
Missouri – Judge Rejects Ex-Missouri Lawmaker’s Push to Overturn Revolving-Door Lobbying Ban
Missouri Independent – Rudi Keller | Published: 4/3/2023
Missouri’s ban on lobbying by lawmakers and legislative staff ban does not violate the right to free speech, a federal judge ruled. Former state Rep. Rocky Miller and General Assembly employee John LaVanchy sued to overturn the lobbying ban, which voters approved in 2018 as part of the Clean Missouri amendment to the state constitution. The amendment prohibits current lawmakers and employees of the General Assembly from paid lobbying during their time of service and for two years after they leave office.
Missouri – Missouri Anti-Discrimination Agency Dysfunctional, Lawyers Say, as Chairman Condemned
Yahoo News – Jonathan Shorman (Kansas City Star) | Published: 4/5/2023
When the chairperson of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights spoke against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination law, the remarks provoked outrage among Democrats and LGBTQ advocates. But the comments from Timothy Faber have also turned a spotlight on the commission itself, which lawyers and employment discrimination experts say is a broken agency unable to effectively respond to allegations of discrimination.
Montana – Proposed Constitutional Amendment Would End Montana Supreme Court Elections
Montana Free Press – Arren Kimbel-Sannit | Published: 3/30/2023
The House Judiciary Committee endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would end state Supreme Court elections in Montana, giving the governor power to appoint justices to the bench with Senate confirmation. House Bill 915 is the long-awaited culmination of Republican efforts this year to remake the state court system and its processes. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Mercer, framed the bill as an effort to combat the proliferation of campaign money in state judicial elections.
Nebraska – Goins Resigns Amid Questions About Conflicts of Interest, Improper Use of State Email
Nebraska Examiner – Paul Hammel | Published: 4/5/2023
Nebraska’s top economic developer, Tony Goins, announced his resignation amid questions about conflicts-of-interest between his state job and co-ownership of a Lincoln cigar lounge. Goins had served as director of the Department of Economic Development since 2019. Media reports detailed instances when Goins directed business to the Capital Cigar Lounge, in which he has a 51 percent ownership interest.
New Jersey – Murphy Signs Disputed Election Finance Bill That Gives Him More Power Over Watchdog Agency
Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 4/3/2023
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a controversial overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that drastically raises limits on political contributions, curbs investigations of campaign finance violations, loosens the “pay-to-play” law, and gives Murphy more power over the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). All three ELEC members resigned in protest after the General Assembly approved the legislation. Lawmakers pulled the bill from scheduled full chamber votes several times after substantial provisions were added and pushed through the process at the last minute.
New York – Trump Indictment Follows 50 Years of Investigation on Many Fronts
MSN – Marc Fisher (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023
Donald Trump has portrayed himself as the consummate dealmaker and the ultimate escape artist, an entrepreneur turned politician who managed to avoid major consequences despite having been investigated in every decade of his adult life by federal and state agencies, by bankers and casino regulators, by legions of prosecutors and competitors. Now, 50 years after federal officials first accused Trump and his father of violating laws that barred racial discrimination in apartment rentals, the former president has been indicted.
New York – Trump Pleads Not Guilty to 34 Felony Charges
Politico – Erica Orden, Kyle Cheney, and Josh Gerstein | Published: 4/4/2023
A stone-faced Donald Trump made a momentous courtroom appearance when he was confronted with a 34-count felony indictment charging him in a scheme to bury allegations of extramarital affairs that arose during his first White House campaign, becoming the first ex-president to ever face criminal charges. The indictment centers on allegations Trump falsified internal business records his private company while trying to cover up an effort to illegally influence the 2016 election by arranging payments that silenced claims potentially harmful to his candidacy.
North Carolina – N.C. Lawmaker Flips Parties, Handing State GOP a Veto-Proof Majority
MSN – Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023
A North Carolina lawmaker elected as a Democrat is defecting to the GOP, handing Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the state Legislature. Rep. Tricia Cotham’s party change gives the GOP increased power over key issues like abortion and elections. She cited her treatment by Democrats as her motivation to switch parties. Cotham said she has been “bullied” for not toeing the party line and accused Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Democratic Party of demanding she follow the lead of top state officials.
Ohio – Dobos Resigns as Vice Chair of Ohio House Higher Ed Committee Over False MIT Grad Claim
MSN – Bill Bush (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 4/5/2023
Ohio Rep. David Dobos resigned as vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee following a report that he falsely claimed to have graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The claim of holding an MIT degree has been repeated by Dobos often dating back some 30 years, in everything from campaigns to casual conversations. Dobos has already come under scrutiny for not disclosing $1.45 million in outstanding debts. State law requires legislative candidates to disclose people or businesses to whom they owe more than $1,000.
Ohio – AEP Doesn’t Have Much to Say About Its Support for Corrupt Utility Bailout
Ohio Capital Journal – Marty Schladen | Published: 4/3/2023
The utility AEP was not at the center of a bribery and money-laundering scandal in 2019. But it also was not very far away as a corrupt deal was hatched in the Ohio Capitol to use $61 million in bribes to pass a $1.3 billion bailout for nuclear power plants. AEP came up repeatedly in the trial that ended in the racketeering convictions of former House Speaker Larry Householder and former state GOP Chairperson Matt Borges. Through its dark-money group, AEP provided more than $900,000 that was used to help pass the bailout. It has received more than $60 million to subsidize aging coal plants that belong to a consortium in which it owns a 40% stake.
Oregon – Portland Auditor Finds Insufficient Evidence ShotSpotter Violated City Code
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Jonathan Levinson | Published: 4/4/2023
An investigation by the city auditor’s office found insufficient evidence that gunshot detection company ShotSpotter violated Portland’s lobbying rules, clearing the way for the city’s pursuit of the technology. After receiving a complaint, the auditor’s office reviewed whether ShotSpotter had passed the time or monetary thresholds in its courting of the city for a contract that would have required it to register as a lobbying entity. Private companies are required to register as lobbying entities if they have spent eight cumulative hours or at least $1,000 during any calendar quarter lobbying.
Pennsylvania – Campaign Finance, Lobbying Reform Still Receiving Little Attention in Pa. Legislature
Spotlight PA – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 3/31/2023
During the five hours that legislators questioned Pennsylvania Department of State officials during recent hearings, they inquired about the agency’s work on campaign finance and lobbying just twice. For those who follow the Capitol closely, it came as little surprise. Republican legislative leaders have not substantively discussed improving the state’s campaign finance and lobbying disclosure rules for more than a decade, despite calls by good-government advocates and others for changes.
Tennessee – Tennessee GOP Begins Expulsion Process for 3 Democrats, House Session Devolves into Chaos
MSN – Melissa Brown and Vivian Jones (Tennessean) | Published: 4/4/2023
Tennessee House Republicans introduced resolutions to expel three Democrats for “disorderly behavior” after the trio led protest chants for gun reform on the floor of the chamber in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting. The three House Democrats had approached the podium between bills without being recognized to speak, a breach of chamber rules. With a bullhorn, Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson led protestors in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform. House leadership later likened the trio’s behavior to an “insurrection.”
Texas – Texas Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Library Shelves
MSN – Cheyanne Daniels (The Hill) | Published: 4/3/2023
A federal judge in Texas ruled Llano County officials must return more than a dozen books they had banned and removed from the county’s library shelves during 2021. The preliminary order by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman also prohibited the county from removing any other books as the court case is pending. The library’s catalog is required to be updated to show county residents the removed books are once again available. In his ruling, Pitman said, “Defendants removed the books at issue to prevent access to viewpoints and content to which they objected.”
Texas – Bills Advance to Close Loophole Allowing Some Lawmakers to Increase Their Pay to $140,000
Texas Tribune – James Barragán | Published: 3/29/2023
Lawmakers are moving forward with a measure to do away with a loophole that allows long-serving legislators to increase their annual pay by $140,000 by dipping into their pension while continuing to draw a state salary. Pension payments for state employees grow based on years of service and are typically capped at the state worker’s maximum salary. But state lawmakers, who make an annual salary of $7,200, have retirement benefits tied to the salaries of state District Court judges, who make $140,000, meaning lawmakers who stay in office could have an opportunity to collect retirement payments that far exceed their state salaries.
Virginia – Judge Orders GOP Primary in Va. Senate Race After Party Official Sues
MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023
A judge ordered Virginia to hold a Republican primary in a Suffolk-area state Senate contest, ruling in favor of a Republican official who accused Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chief of staff and Attorney General Jason Miyares of pressuring the state elections chief into canceling it in favor of a convention. Circuit Court Judge Claire Cardwell ordered state Elections Commissioner Susan Beals to once again schedule the June Republican primary that had been announced but then called off.
Wisconsin – Liberals Win Control of Wisconsin Supreme Court Ahead of Abortion Case
MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2023
Liberals claimed control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, giving them a one-vote majority on a body that in the coming years will likely consider the state’s abortion ban, its gerrymandered legislative districts, and its voting rules for the 2024 presidential election. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz’s victory over former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly will end 15 years of conservative control of the court. Candidates, political parties, and independent groups spent more than $40 million on the race, making it the most expensive judicial contest in U.S. history.
March 31, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 31, 2023
National/Federal Former Trump Officials Must Testify in 2020 Election Inquiry, Judge Says DNyuz – Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2023 A federal judge ruled a number of former officials from former President Trump’s administration – including his […]
Former Trump Officials Must Testify in 2020 Election Inquiry, Judge Says
DNyuz – Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2023
A federal judge ruled a number of former officials from former President Trump’s administration – including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows – cannot invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying to a grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Prosecutors are likely to be especially eager to hear from Meadows, who refused to be interviewed by the House select committee that investigated the attack on the Capitol. Meadows was a central player in various efforts to help Trump reverse the election outcome in a number of contested states.
A Campaign Aide Didn’t Write That Email. A.I. Did.
DNyuz – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 3/28/2023
Inside political campaigns, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to soon help perform mundane tasks that previously required fleets of interns. Republican and Democratic engineers alike are racing to develop tools to harness AI to make advertising more efficient, to engage in predictive analysis of public behavior, to write more and more personalized copy, and to discover new patterns in mountains of voter data. The technology is evolving so fast that most predict a profound impact, even if specific ways in which it will upend the political system are more speculation than science.
Fetterman Set to Return to Senate Week of April 17
MSN – Al Weaver (The Hill) | Published: 3/29/2023
Sources said U.S. Sen. John Fetterman is set to return to the Senate the week of April 17. He has been absent since mid-February after checking himself into Walter Reed Medical Military Hospital with clinical depression. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said he met with his fellow Keystone State lawmaker recently and was pleased to see how he was doing.
How TikTok Built a ‘Team of Avengers’ to Fight for Its Life
MSN – Hailey Fuchs, Clothilde Goujard, and Daniel Lippman (Politico) | Published: 3/30/2023
TikTok’s battle for survival has become a vivid study in how a wealthy, foreign-owned corporation can use its financial might to build an impressive-looking network of influence, and in the limitations of what lobbying can do to protect a company at the center of a firestorm. A Politico investigation revealed an effort by TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, dating back to at least 2018, long before concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership reached their current pitch.
House’s Monthly Pay Cycle, an Inconvenience for Some, Could Get Review
MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 3/30/2023
When money gets low, some Capitol Hill staffers hit up receptions for free food. Others, especially junior staffers, work multiple jobs to get them from one paycheck to the next. Still others run up credit card debt while working in the halls of Congress. The low pay for staff has been an issue for years. But the infrequency of the paychecks, just one per month, can compound the problem.
Schools Forced to Divert Staff Amid Historic Flood of Records Requests
MSN – Hannah Natanson and Karina Elwood (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023
School districts across the nation are facing a mounting pile of increasingly complex records requests from parents, community members, or attorneys representing education advocacy groups – all of whom say they want greater transparency about how local children are educated. The focus is on curriculum documentation or the contents of emails between school board members, as concerns have spread over what public schools are teaching about race, gender and sexual orientation.
Indicted Chinese Exile Controls Gettr Social Media Site, Ex-Employees Say
MSN – Joseph Menn (Washington Post) | Published: 3/26/2023
An exiled Chinese tycoon indicted in New York in a billion-dollar fraud case controls the conservative social media platform Gettr and used it to promote cryptocurrencies and propaganda, former employees said. They said the arrested expatriate, Guo Wengui, and his longtime money manager, William Je, called the shots at the company while Donald Trump senior adviser Jason Miller was its chief executive and public face. The revelations show a man accused of massive fraud on two continents climbed high into Trump’s political sphere and dictated messaging at a social media site that reaches millions of Americans.
Activist Group Led by Ginni Thomas Received Nearly $600,000 in Anonymous Donations
MSN – Shawn Boberg and Emma Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/28/2023
A Washington Post investigation sheds new light on the role money from donors who are not publicly identified has played in supporting Ginni Thomas’s political advocacy, long a source of controversy. She is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. A conservative activist group led by Ginni Thomas collected nearly $600,000 in anonymous donations to wage a cultural battle against the left. Contributions to Crowdsourcers for Culture and Liberty were channeled through a right-wing think tank that agreed to serve as a funding conduit from 2019 until the start of last year.
AP Sources: Judge rules Pence must testify before grand jury
MSN – Jill Colvin and Eric Tucker (Associated Press) | Published: 3/28/2023
A federal judge ruled former Vice President Mike Pence will have to testify before a grand jury in the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Sources said Pence would not have to answer questions about his actions on January 6, 2021, as Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory. But he would have to testify about any potential illegal acts committed by Trump.
Supreme Court Justices Under New Ethics Disclosures on Trips, Other Gifts
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 3/28/2023
Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, must follow strengthened financial disclosure requirements surrounding gifts they receive. The new requirements mark a technical but significant change that lawmakers and transparency advocates hope will lead to more disclosure by judges and justices. The revisions come after years of pressure from members of Congress, who say the judiciary should follow ethics guidelines closer to those that apply to the executive and legislative branches.
Lindsey Graham Publicly Admonished for Fundraising on Capitol Grounds
MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 3/24/2023
A nine-minute Fox News appearance last year earned U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham a public admonishment from the Senate Ethics Committee because in the video, he solicited campaign contributions for former candidate Herschel Walker while standing on Capitol grounds. The committee acknowledged Graham self-reported his actions to them. The committee also noted this is not the first time Graham violated Senate rules banning fundraising appeals on federal property.
Republicans Face Setbacks in Push to Tighten Voting Laws on College Campuses
Yahoo News – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 3/29/2023
Alarmed over young people increasingly proving to be a force for Democrats at the ballot box, Republican lawmakers in a number of states have been trying to enact new obstacles to voting for college students. Out of 17 states that generally require voter ID, five do not accept any student IDs. Proponents of such restrictions often say they are needed to prevent voter fraud, even though instances of fraud are rare. Two lawsuits were filed in state and federal court shortly after Idaho’s Republican governor, Brad Little, signed a student ID prohibition into law on March 15.
From the States and Municipalities
Canada – Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Approve Loosening of Ethical Lobbying Rules
Western Standard – Lee Harding | Published: 3/27/2023
In a letter to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger, the House of Commons Ethics Committee approved of the commissioner’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Committee members aid they wanted Belanger to formalize the ability of lobbyists to offer “sponsored travel” junket trips to members of Parliament and their family members and associates “where they serve a legitimate purpose.” They approved the increase on the annual limit on gifts from a lobbyist to $200, and on hospitality to $200.
Arizona – Arizona Court Declines Most of Lake’s Appeal Over Gov’s Race
MSN – Jacques Billeaud (Associated Press) | Published: 3/23/2023
The Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear most of Kari Lake’s appeal in a challenge of her defeat in the governor’s race but revived a claim that was dismissed by a trial court. Lake, who lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republican candidates promoting Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake did not.
Arizona – Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Spokesperson Resigns After Twitter Post Invoking Gun Violence
MSN – Stacey Barchenger (Arizona Republic) | Published: 3/29/2023
Arizona – Arizona State Rep. Liz Harris Says Constitution Required Her to Allow Baseless Cartel Bribery Claims
Yahoo News – Ray Stern (Arizona Republic) | Published: 3/23/2023
A lawmaker whose invited guest speaker accused public officials and the LDS church of conspiring with a Mexican drug cartel told an Arizona House ethics panel she had a constitutional duty to allow the testimony. Rep. Liz Harris was hit with a complaint after her guest, insurance agent Jacqueline Breger, presented the allegations at a joint Senate and House elections committee hearing. Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, who filed the complaint, said the presentation amounted to “disorderly conduct” by Harris and made Arizona a “national joke.”
Colorado – Proposal to Cap Candidate Contributions in Colorado’s Local Elections Advances
Colorado Politics – Hannah Metzger | Published: 3/27/2023
Colorado could soon establish a statewide limit on donations made to candidates in local elections if a new bill is passed into law. House Bill 1245 would cap contributions from individuals at $250 and donations from small-donor committees at $2,500 in municipal elections, among other provisions. Karen Goldman with the Colorado Municipal Clerks Association raised concerns about elements of the bill intended to increase transparency in campaign contributions, calling the proposed changes “excessive and unworkable.”
Connecticut – Legislator’s Arrest Places Spotlight on Drinking at Connecticut State Capitol
Yahoo News – Christopher Keating (Hartford Courant) | Published: 3/26/2023
In previous years, organized parties with live music and copious amounts of alcohol kept lawmakers at the Capitol in Hartford until dawn on the session’s final day. Legislative receptions often featured liquor, including an annual wine tasting at the same time House and Senate members were debating in nearby chambers. The issue gained increased attention following the arrest of Rep. Robin Comey, who had been at a bar with three other legislators. Comey was driving a Honda Civic in a narrow section of Capitol Avenue near the Red Rock Tavern when her car flipped upside down and landed on its roof.
District of Columbia – D.C. Campaign Finance Office Tosses Complaints About Silverman’s Poll
MSN – Michael Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023
The District of Columbia’s Office of Campaign Finance has dismissed a third and final complaint related to former city council member Elissa Silverman’s decision to poll last year’s Ward 3 Democratic primary election, concluding a controversial saga the erstwhile lawmaker says cost her a seat on the council. Silverman turned some heads in June when she said she polled the Ward 3 race and discussed the results with two candidates in that contest who had asked for her endorsement.
Florida – Florida Bill Would Shield DeSantis’s Travel Records
DNyuz – Nick Corasaniti (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2023
Florida lawmakers moved to shield Gov. Ron DeSantis’s travel records from the public, proposing to change the state’s public information laws just as the governor ramps up what is expected to be a 2024 presidential campaign. The bill includes a sweeping retroactive clause that would block the release of many records of trips already taken by DeSantis and other officials, as well as their families and staff members. In recent months, the governor has traveled widely as he promotes a new book and moves toward a White House bid.
Florida – DeSantis Wants ‘Media Accountability.’ A New Bill Makes Suing Journalists Easier.
MSN – Elahe Izadi and Lori Rozsa (Washington Post) | Published: 3/23/2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to challenge Donald Trump and a growing field for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, has made open antipathy toward “corporate media” a key part of his brand in his ascent in conservative politics. A new bill moving through the Legislature appears to codify DeSantis’s combative stance toward media and his portrayal of journalists as partisan players who lack accountability by making it far easier to sue news organizations for defamation and win.
Florida – Disney Quietly Dodged DeSantis’s Oversight Board, Appointees Realize
MSN – Bryan Pietsch (Washington Post) | Published: 3/30/2023
The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the previous board of passing an 11th-hour agreement in cahoots with the company that has hamstrung it from much of its administrative power over the amusement park. In an apparent retaliation for Disney’s critique of a DeSantis-backed bill, the governor replaced the previous Disney-friendly oversight board with a new panel made up entirely of his own appointees, including religious and conservative activists.
Illinois – Out-of-State PAC Backing Conservative School Board Candidates Hasn’t Disclosed Spending
Yahoo News – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/28/2023
A New York-based PAC backing conservative candidates in local school board races in Illinois has not disclosed what it is spending on mailers that began arriving in Chicago-area mailboxes recently as required under state law, according to state election officials. While the 1776 Project is registered with the FEC, Illinois campaign finance law requires independent expenditure committees that spend money on races in the state to register. Since it is not even registered with the state, the 1776 Project had not reported any such spending one week before Election Day.
Illinois – ‘ComEd Four’ Trial Offering a Fascinating and Unprecedented Look into the Inner Workings of Madigan’s Political Power
Yahoo News – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/26/2023
Through wiretapped conversations, internal documents, and the sworn accounts of key insiders, federal prosecutors in a corruption trial have laid bare the inner workings of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s extraordinary power. Before resigning, Madigan held sway over the fate of legislation and the political and professional futures of hordes of lawmakers, lobbyists, and job seekers. Proving Madigan’s influence is a key element of the prosecution’s case against four associates of the former speaker accused of conspiring to bribe him to help Commonwealth Edison’s legislative agenda.
Maryland – Baltimore Board of Ethics Makes Mosby Defense Fund Donor List Public, Minus Names of Donors
MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/23/2023
A list of donors to a legal-defense fund established to benefit Baltimore political power couple Nick and Marilyn Mosby became public, minus the names of the more than 130 donors. The list was expected to offer a public accounting of who gave to the fund. The fund was at the center of a Board of Ethics ruling against Nick Mosby, the Baltimore City Council president. The board found he violated the ethics ordinance by indirectly soliciting for the fund and by failing to include it on his annual ethics disclosure form. After contesting the ruling for nearly a year, Mosby complied with an order from the board to provide information about the fund.
New Jersey – N.J. Election Watchdog Declines to Discipline Executive Director Over Alleged Anti-Gay Email
MSN – Matt Arco (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/28/2023
The head of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) will not be disciplined for allegations of workplace homophobia, racism, and insubordination after members of the commission cleared him of wrongdoing. The hearing for ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle was held after a colleague filed a complaint about an email Brindle sent in response to a National Coming Out Day announcement. It also came as the Legislature is considering a controversial bill that would reshape ELEC, including allowing Gov. Phil Murphy to replace the agency’s current commissioners and ultimately oust Brindle.
New Jersey – Critics Slam Lawmakers’ Push to Raise Campaign Donation Limits
New Jersey Monitor – Nikita Biryukov | Published: 3/30/2023
New Jersey lawmakers in both chambers are set to approve an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that, among numerous other things, would drastically increase how much donors can give to candidates and political parties. The bill, expected to receive final votes in the state Assembly and Senate on March 30, would double the $2,600 limit on contributions to candidates, roughly double the $37,000 cap on donations to county political parties, and triple the $25,000 maximum contribution limit to committees run by the state political parties and the Legislature’s leaders.
New Mexico – Steak Dinners and Ski Passes: As lobbyists spend to influence New Mexico Legislature, 2 lawmakers seek more transparency
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 3/23/2023
State Sens. Jeff Steinborn and Mark Moores say New Mexico’s lobbyist reporting requirements miss critical information. They pushed for legislation this year that would require lobbyists to disclose what bills they are lobbying on and the position they take. Senate Bill 218 advanced through one committee but died without reaching the full Senate for a vote. Meager as the required spending reports are, Steinborn said, they nevertheless hint at lobbyists’ influence.
New Mexico – Council Walks Back Campaign Code Rewrite
Santa Fe Reporter – Andrew Oxford | Published: 3/29/2023
Santa Fe’s mayor and city council walked back proposed changes to local campaign finance rules after the municipal ethics board raised concerns the update – coming just months before an election – could lead to less transparency about who is spending money to influence voters. City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic backed the election code rewrite as a means of simplifying Santa Fe’s labyrinthine campaign rules and more closely aligning local policies with state law.
New Mexico – NM Legislators Fail to Pass Ethical Conduct Bill as Lobbyists Fear Unsafe Working Conditions
Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/23/2023
An effort to update and standardize professional conduct standards for public employees, including lawmakers, failed to get through the 2023 legislative session. As a result, lobbyists say people who work and visit the Roundhouse will still need to assign their own measures to feel safe in Santa Fe. The current guidelines already say public employees cannot ask for money or something else of value in exchange for a vote or other official favors, but this bill would have specified that sexual acts also cannot be traded.
New York – NYC Councilwoman Inna Vernikov Used Government Email to Solicit Business
MSN – Chris Sommerfeldt (New York Daily News) | Published: 3/26/2023
New York City Councilperson Inna Vernikov used her government email account to solicit business for a self-defense company she has been involved with. In an email from her government account to constituents, Vernikov wrote she has “partnered with” Legion to offer classes in Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art. Vernikov said she is no longer on Legion’s board. Richard Briffault, a former chairperson of the Conflicts of Interest Board, said Vernikov likely violated ethics law even if she is not currently involved with Legion in a formal capacity, as the rules bar public officials from using “any city resources for any non-city purpose.”
North Carolina – N.C. Board Removes Election Officials Who Refused to Certify
Yahoo News – Hannah Schoenbaum (Associated Press) | Published: 3/28/2023
The North Carolina State Board of Elections removed two local election officials who had refused to certify their county’s 2022 results after officials determined they violated state law. The elections board voted unanimously to dismiss Surry County elections secretary Jerry Forestieri and board member Timothy DeHaan in one of the strongest disciplinary actions taken against local officials across the U.S. who have delayed or refused to certify election results.
Oklahoma – Oklahoma Rep. Dean Davis Claimed ‘Legislative Immunity’ During His Arrest. Are State Officials Really Exempt?
Yahoo News – Jessie Christopher Smith (Oklahoman) | Published: 3/28/2023
The circumstances and fallout regarding the arrest of Oklahoma Rep. Dean Davis have generated discussion about constitutional privileges for lawmakers and the exact boundaries of the protection. During his arrest at a bar in Oklahoma City, Davis presented his legislative identification card to police, asking an officer to read it aloud. The card contains language from the state constitution that prohibits a legislator from being arrested under certain circumstances. After reading the card, the officer told Davis he was not at the Capitol, and he was going to be arrested on a complaint of public drunkenness.
Oregon – Port of Morrow Commissioners, Already Under Investigation, Keep Voting on Amazon’s Data Center Tax Deals
MSN – Mike Rogoway (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/24/2023
Two commissioners at the Port of Morrow who each own a stake in Amazon’s local fiber-optics provider voted recently to give the city of Boardman a share of new tax deals for data centers the company wants to build outside city limits. They voted even though their prior votes on the port’s dealings with Amazon, a customer of their fiber business, are already the subject of a state ethics investigation. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has said state law allows these latest votes, provided they acknowledge publicly they might profit from the deals.
Virginia – Lawsuit Filed Over Nomination Method for One Va. GOP Race
MSN – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 3/27/2023
A court feud has erupted over the method of nomination Virginia Republicans will use in one state Senate race, with one party official arguing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chief of staff and the attorney general put pressure on the state elections commissioner to change a primary to a convention. The case puts the spotlight back on the arcane business of nomination selection that split the party as Youngkin sought his party’s gubernatorial nomination. At that time, the multimillionaire political newcomer sought a primary, a format that tends to favor candidates with more money, and accused one of his rivals of trying to tilt the playing field toward a convention.
Washington – Those Mailers Telling You to Call Your Elected Leaders? They May Soon Tell You Who Paid for Them
KNKX – Scott Greenstone | Published: 3/27/2023
Legislation advancing in Washington would require groups sponsoring ads that urge people to contact lawmakers about a bill to list their major donors. When the Legislature is in session, the bill would require groups lobbying the public to register who paid for and worked on the campaign within 24 hours of the ad being presented to the public.
West Virginia – PSC Orders Audit of Mon Power, Potomac Edison Lobbying Expenses
Charleston Gazette – Mike Tony | Published: 3/27/2023
Wisconsin – Costly Court Race Points to a Politicized Future for Judicial Elections
DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 3/28/2023
The campaign for a swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court – officially nonpartisan but positively awash in partisanship – brings together the old and new ways of judicial politics in America and offers a preview of what might be to come. The race could lead to a sea change in how state Supreme Court races are contested in the other where high court justices are elected, injecting never-before-seen amounts of money, politicization, and voter interest.
Wisconsin – Wis. School Blocks 1st-Graders from Singing ‘Rainbowland’ in Spring Show
MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 3/29/2023
Melissa Tempel’s first grade class at Heyer Elementary School in Wisconsin has spent weeks preparing for its upcoming spring concert. Students were set to perform “Rainbowland,” a duet by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton, with lyrics that advocate for inclusion. But within one day of students learning the song, Tempel said school administration asked her to remove “Rainbowland” from the concert. The district said it called for the song to be removed because its lyrics “could be deemed controversial” according to a school board policy on controversial issues in the classroom.
March 24, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 24, 2023
National/Federal As Chatbots Spread, Conservatives Dream About a Right-Wing Response DNyuz – Stuart Thompson, Tiffany Hsu, and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) | Published: 3/20/2023 Artificial intelligence has become another front in the political and cultural wars in the U.S. and […]
As Chatbots Spread, Conservatives Dream About a Right-Wing Response
DNyuz – Stuart Thompson, Tiffany Hsu, and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) | Published: 3/20/2023
Artificial intelligence has become another front in the political and cultural wars in the U.S. and other countries. Even as companies scramble to join the commercial boom prompted by the release of ChatGPT, they face a debate over the use, and potential abuse, of artificial intelligence. The technology’s ability to create content that hews to predetermined ideological points of view, or presses disinformation, highlights a danger – that an informational cacophony could emerge from competing chatbots with different versions of reality, undermining the viability of artificial intelligence as a tool in everyday life and further eroding trust in society.
Two Gifts to Trump Family from Foreign Nations Are Missing, Report Says
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 3/17/2023
Federal officials cannot find two gifts received by former President Trump and his family from foreign nations, including a life-size painting of Trump from the president of El Salvador and golf clubs from the Japanese prime minister, according to a new report from House Democrats. The gifts are among more than 100 foreign gifts, with a total value of nearly $300,000, that Trump and his family failed to report to the State Department in violation of federal law, according to the report, which cites government records and emails.
Trump Lawyer Must Turn Over Evidence on Classified Documents, Court Rules
MSN – Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, Jacqueline Alemany, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/22/2023
A federal appeals court ruled that a lawyer for Donald Trump must provide notes, transcripts, and other evidence to prosecutors investigating how classified documents remained at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home months after a subpoena to return all sensitive files. The order from a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ends an emergency hold on a ruling by a lower-court judge. It is possible Trump will seek to carry the fight up to the Supreme Court.
The Jan. 6 Investigation Is the Biggest in U.S. History. It’s Only Half Done.
MSN – Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2023
The District of Columbia’s federal court system is bracing for many years more of trials stemming from the riot at the U.S. Capitol, with new charges possible against as many as 1,000 more people. Prosecutors are hopeful many will be incentivized to plead to help manage the crush of cases, which already have strained the court in the nation’s capital. A Washington Post analysis of the cases so far shows defendants who seek a trial rather than plead guilty end up getting about a year of prison time added to their sentences.
Is Sean Hannity a Journalist? Role of Hosts Is Key in Fox News Lawsuit.
MSN – Jeremy Barr (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2023
FEC Eyes New Rules for Candidates to Draw Pay, Perks from Campaigns
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 3/22/2023
U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost and a slate of former congressional candidates urged the FEC to loosen restrictions on using campaign funds for salaries and benefits for those seeking office. Making it easier for candidates to draw a regular salary, plus health care and other benefits, would help encourage more diversity among House, Senate, and presidential hopefuls, they argued.
Jan. 6 Panel’s Video Depositions Become Tantalizing Tool for Probes
Roll Call – Michael Macagnone | Published: 3/22/2023
Clips from videotaped depositions with allies of Donald Trump were one of the most effective tools employed by the House select committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to make the public case against Trump’s role. Experts expect that will change the dynamics of congressional committees this year and beyond. Lawmakers will come around to those technological advancements that grab public attention and allow them to better shape their arguments, and witnesses will recalculate how their answers might later be used at hearings.
Abortion on the Ballot? Not If These Republican Lawmakers Can Help It.
Yahoo News – Alice Mianda Ollstein and Megan Messerly (Politico) | Published: 3/19/2023
After watching the pro-choice side win all six ballot initiative fights related to abortion in 2022, including in red states, conservatives are mobilizing to avoid a repeat. Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma are debating bills this session that would hike the filing fees, raise the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, restrict who can collect signatures, mandate broader geographic distribution of signatures, and raise the vote threshold to pass an amendment from a majority to a supermajority.
George Santos Never Filed a Key Financial Disclosure. Enforcement Has Been Lax for Years.
Yahoo News – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 3/19/2023
Though it was obvious at the time that George Santos missed the deadline in 2021 to file a financial disclosure report, the issue did not attract much attention until after he had been elected to Congress and a series of resumé fabrications began to surface. Dozens of candidates who should have filed financial disclosures over the past two election cycles avoided doing so or filed the forms late without asking for an extension. The fact that such violations are rarely even flagged, and penalties are essentially non-existent, makes it easy for candidates to avoid disclosing key financial information, ethics experts say.
US Lawmakers Resume Globetrotting Paid by Special Interests
Yahoo News – Billy House (Bloomberg) | Published: 3/18/2023
Members of Congress and their staffers rebounded from pandemic travel anxiety in 2022, accepting more than $6.6 million worth of airline tickets, hotel rooms, and meals paid for by special-interest groups. Destinations included more than 40 foreign countries, including Israel, Spain, and Japan, as well as U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Miami. Some lawmakers took spouses and other family members, also free-of-cost, on the excursions.
From the States and Municipalities
Oceania – How Well-Connected Lobbyists Ask For – and Receive – Urgent Meetings, Sensitive Information and Action on Law Changes for Their Corporate Clients
RNZ – Guyon Espiner | Published: 3/22/2023
A media investigation unearthed thousands of emails, text messages, and even encrypted Signal communications, revealing the extent of the lobbying industry in New Zealand. The documents show lobbyists targeting ministerial advisors, inviting them to drinks, dinner, and sports events with text messages addressing them as “brother” and “comrade.” New Zealand has among the weakest regimes in the developed world for regulating lobbying and the industry largely operates in the shadows, with little information about the client lists of many of the major firms.
Arizona – Group Attempts to Quash New Campaign Finance Law
White Mountain Independent – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/20/2023
A conservative advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers is asking a federal judge to quash new voter-approved campaign finance laws aimed at exposing “dark money” contributions for political purposes. Attorneys for Americans for Prosperity contend the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to donate to advocacy organizations without fear their identities would be disclosed. But in a new lawsuit, they contend Proposition 211 “trammels that right by subjecting countless Americans nationwide to governmental doxxing for doing nothing more than supporting their chosen non-profit organizations and charities.”
California – San Francisco Will Allow City Officials to Fundraise for Safe-Consumption Sites
KQED – Sydney Johnson | Published: 3/21/2023
San Francisco leaders are making an exception to their own ethics policy so city officials can solicit donations for safe-consumption sites. The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on that allows Mayor London Breed, her officers, and officials at the Department of Public Health to seek out contributions for nonprofits, which would then use the private funds to operate safe-consumption sites, where medical staff can supervise people using drugs and respond if there is an overdose.
California – City Blacklists 4 More Firms Tied to Mohammed Nuru Scandal
San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 3/22/2023
The federal cases against two Bay Area executives accused of bribing former San Francisco Public Works head Mohammed Nuru with a $40,000 tractor are about to cost them more city business. A city investigation digging deeper into the corruption cases against Alan Varela and William Gilmartin of ProVen Management, a construction and engineering firm behind major infrastructure projects, has revealed new links between the executives, their firm, and four other companies. Now City Attorney David Chiu is suspending the firms from bidding on city contracts.
California – Should San Jose Require Nonprofits to Register as Lobbyists?
San Jose Spotlight – Jana Kadah | Published: 3/16/2023
Like corporate lobbyists, nonprofit leaders meet regularly with San Jose officials to influence policy decisions. But nonprofits, which are often awarded millions in city contracts, do not have to disclose their meetings like other lobbyists. Ethics experts say more transparency is needed, while nonprofit leaders worry changing the rules will make it harder for them to advocate for policies and discourage smaller nonprofits from working with the city.
California – Stockton Councilman Files Restraining Order Against 209 Times Founder, Cites Threats, Harassment
Yahoo News – Ben Irwin and Aaron Leathley (Stockton Record) | Published: 3/22/2023
A temporary restraining order was granted protecting Stockton City Councilperson Brando Villapdua, who accused the 209 Times founder, Motecuzoma Sanchez, of harassing the lawmaker. Court documents say Sanchez harassed and threatened Villapudua into supporting the removal of City Manager Harry Black “and others.” After a closed meeting of the council, Sanchez began verbally attacking and threatening Villapudua and became “physically aggressive in such a quick manner” that the 209 Times founder had to be physically restrained at Valley Brewin the city, according to court documents.
California – State Launches Probe of Cannabis Licensing to ‘Clean House’ of Corruption
Yahoo News – Adam Elmahrek (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/23/2023
Corruption in California’s cannabis industry has become widespread and brazen. There have been “pay-to-play” schemes, including a demand for cash in a brown paper bag for a marijuana license, threats of violence against local officials, and city council members accepting money from cannabis businesses even as they regulated them. Those problems and more were uncovered by a Los Angeles Times investigation. Now state officials are launching an audit aimed at curtailing bribery, conflicts-of-interest, and other misdeeds.
Colorado – Kelly Brough’s Partner Has Long Influenced City Politics on Behalf of Businesses Like Frontier Airlines, Kroenke and Large Developers
Denverite – Ben Markus | Published: 3/21/2023
Before Kelly Brough decided to run for mayor of Denver, she had a conversation with her partner, David Kenney. Brough said she has been in a relationship for about 10 years with Kenney, a longtime political consultant and city and state lobbyist, whose clients make up some of the largest developers in Denver. He has exercised his connections in the current administration, meeting with Mayor Michael Hancock and several of his top deputies at least 31 times between 2011 and 2022. His firm has been involved in a series of successful ballot issue campaigns on behalf of business interests.
Connecticut – Former West Haven Employee Sentenced to Prison for Fraud
Connecticut Mirror – Andrew Brown | Published: 3/22/2023
John Bernardo, a former West Haven employee, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for participating in a scheme to steal federal relief funds that were meant to help the city and its residents weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernardo was the first defendant to be sentenced as part of a federal probe, which uncovered more than $1.2 million that was embezzled through a network of bogus companies and a stream of fake invoices paid by the city’s Finance Department.
Florida – Randy Fine Pulls $2 Million Request as Brevard Zoo Considers Ban on Campaign Events
Yahoo News – Eric Rogers and Dave Berman (Florida Today) | Published: 3/16/2023
Florida Rep. Randy Fine pulled a $2 million state funding request for the Brevard Zoo’s aquarium project at Port Canaveral. The move came after Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten said the zoo’s board would consider halting rentals for political campaign events after the 2024 election cycle in the wake of controversy over a fundraiser held at the zoo’s Nyami Nyami River Lodge for Fine’s 2024 state Senate run.
Georgia – Grand Jury Heard Audio of Another Trump Call Seeking to Overturn Election
MSN – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 3/16/2023
An Atlanta-area special grand jury that investigated efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia heard audio of another phone call in which Trump pressed a top state official to help overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Five members of the special grand jury said they listened to a recording of a 2020 phone call between Trump and the Georgia House speaker at the time, David Ralston, in which Ralston resisted Trump’s requests to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden’s narrow election win.
Hawaii – Why This Hawaii Lawmaker’s Job with a Major Construction Company Raises Concern
Honolulu Civil Beat – Kevin Dayton | Published: 3/20/2023
In a state in which construction and development interests wield strong influence, first-term Rep. Micah Aiu’s job outside the Hawaii Legislature could be seen as problematic. Aiu works as an in-house lawyer for Nan Inc., a major construction company that competes for state jobs. Since last summer, Nan was awarded eight contracts worth $325 million. Aiu also sits on the House Finance Committee, which plays an outsized role in developing the state budget and the list of construction projects the state will fund each year. Freshmen lawmakers are routinely assigned to that committee to help them absorb the nuances of the budget process.
Illinois – Suburb Tries New Tack, an Elected Ethics Board, to Nip Illinois-Style Corruption; Critics Say It May Not Have Enough Teeth
Yahoo News – Caroline Kubzansky (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/21/2023
Critics note most or all ethics boards in Illinois, which range throughout the state, are limited because they have only advisory powers. They can investigate wrongdoing by officials but then must refer their findings to that same board so its members can consider whether to take action. Niles, a town shaken by an ethics scandal in which the mayor was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2010, floated a different approach. On April 4, voters there will elect the members of their ethics board, creating what may be the first entity of its kind in Illinois.
Indiana – Numerous Indiana Lawmakers Do Private Consulting. But Who Are They Working For?
Indiana Capital Chronicle – Casey Smith | Published: 3/13/2023
At least 15 legislators in the Indiana General Assembly provide professional advice and guidance to private businesses outside of the Capitol. Other lawmakers have outside limited liability companies that do not specifically reference consulting work but still could provide that service. While some lawmakers choose to list individual clients in their financial disclosure forms, they are not required to do so unless they are a significant income source, leaving the public in the dark about who they are affiliated with.
Kansas – Kansas Lawmakers Are Among Worst Paid in Nation. Some Say It Impedes True Representation
MSN – Ketie Bernard (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/20/2023
Since 2009, Kansas lawmakers have been paid $88.66 per day. Assuming an eight-hour workday, lawmakers make roughly $11.08 per hour, not including the per diem received for travel and living expenses in Topeka. But oftentimes the hours far exceed the traditional eight-hour day once constituent services on unpaid days, evening meetings, and late-night debates are factored in. Lawmakers are expected to continue serving their constituents year-round even though they are only paid for the 90-day legislative session. Kansas may be paying below the federal minimum wage to the officials tasked with determining the policies and laws of the state.
Kansas – Kansas Lawmakers Back Off Aggressive Campaign Finance Overhaul. Here’s What They Will Do.
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital Journal) | Published: 3/22/2023
Kansas lawmakers backed off a more aggressive overhaul of the state’s campaign finance laws, instead opting for a more limited set of changes that focuses on the Governmental Ethics Commission’s administrative procedures. The initial bill was criticized as an attempt to eviscerate limits on campaign donations and effectively render the commission powerless. It raised eyebrows at the Capitol as it came amid an investigation into prominent legislators and state Republican Party officials, despite arguments from GOP lawmakers that the bill was unrelated to the high-profile investigation.
Maryland – Baltimore Council President Nick Mosby Complies with Ethics Order on Legal-Defense Fund
MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/21/2023
Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby closed a nearly yearlong saga over a legal-defense fund formed in his name by complying with a Board of Ethics order. A judge upheld the board’s findings that Mosby violated the law by indirectly soliciting donations for the fund and by failing to disclose its existence on his ethics filing in 2022, which covered activity in 2021. The fund was established for the defense of the council president and also his wife, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, as federal authorities investigated their financial dealings.
Massachusetts – Residents’ Right to Be Rude Upheld by Massachusetts Supreme Court
Yahoo News – Jenna Russell (New York Times) | Published: 3/17/2023
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed the right to be rude at public meetings. Stemming from a lawsuit filed against the town of Southborough by a resident who said members of the Select Board had silenced her unlawfully, the decision pushed back against attempts to mandate good manners. Many local public officials experienced fierce disputes over masks, vaccines, and remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic that erupted at meetings.
Michigan – Can ‘Deradicalization’ Reform Extremists? Michigan Program to Find Out in Limbo
Bridge Michigan – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 3/22/2023
Michigan’s experiment in deradicalizing young extremists may be over before it begins, after the second arrest of a man who had agreed to participate in the program. In a first-of-its kind arrangement, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office last fall agreed to pay up to $10,000 for a pair of consultants to help Andrew Nickels disengage “from extremist organizations” and avoid violence through counseling and support, according to a contract.
Michigan – Former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Marrocco Sentenced to 3 Months in Prison in Corruption Probe
Detroit News – Anna Liz Nichols | Published: 3/16/2023
Former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco was sentenced to three months in prison followed by two years of supervised release in connection with a long-running federal corruption probe. Marrocco was sentenced for trying to extort a developer into buying tickets to a campaign fundraiser and threatening to delay or withhold a county permit. He agreed to plead guilty to attempted extortion in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other extortion-related charges that each carried a 20-year possible prison sentence.
Montana – Lawmakers Opt to Keep ‘Clean Campaign Act’ Despite Judge Striking It Down
Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson | Published: 3/22/2023
A campaign finance law struck down by a federal judge last year will live on in Montana’s law books after legislators from both parties voted down a proposal to repeal the defunct statute. The state’s requirement that candidates give their opponent a heads-up on attack ads published or broadcast in the last 10 days before an election was ruled unconstitutional. The judge found the disclosure requirement violated the free-speech rights of a conservative political committee.
Nebraska – Filibuster Over Transgender Bill Jams Nebraska Legislature for Weeks
MSN – Maham Javaid (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2023
The Nebraska Legislature has been unable to pass a single bill this year. One senator’s distaste with the advancement of a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care for Nebraskans under 19, coupled with the state’s unique filibustering rules, has brought the session to a standstill. While filibustering is not rare for Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature, state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh is the first lawmaker to filibuster every bill introduced to the floor. Senators opposing the bill seeking to restrict gender-affirming care say this is the first time their Legislature has become a part of the national culture war around transgender rights.
New Jersey – Independent Election Watchdog Sues Murphy for Trying to Force Him Out. ‘It’s Political Thuggery.’
MSN – Susan Livio, Matt Arco, and Brent Johnson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/16/2023
Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and three of his top aides, alleging a conspiracy to force Brindle from his job. The suit alleges the Murphy administration sought to remove Brindle over a satirical op-ed he wrote that was critical of groups that engage in political activity but do not publicly disclose their donors. Brindle says he has been the subject of a “concerted and joint action and conspiracy to extort and coerce” him to resign by citing a homophobic email he allegedly sent and a racist statement he allegedly made. Brindle has denied the allegations.
New Jersey – NJ Senate Passes Money-in-Politics Overhaul That Would Give Phil Murphy Sway Over Election Watchdog
Yahoo News – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 3/20/2023
The New Jersey Senate passed an amended campaign finance overhaul critics say continues to gut “pay-to-play” laws, weakens the watchdog agency overseeing all elections in the state, and contains a second attempt to give the governor more power to choose who leads that agency. The Elections Transparency Act includes substantial changes to how money flows in New Jersey elections, including increasing the amounts that individuals and corporations can donate to politicians and parties; illuminating certain “dark money” donors; and cutting down the time accounts can be investigated for violations.
New York – New York Is Overhauling Campaign Finance. But Not the Loophole That Makes Party Fundraising Stronger
Buffalo News – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/21/2023
Soon after Gov. Kathy Hochul was elected last year, 43 members of her campaign staff received a total of $363,000 in payments from the New York State Democratic Party’s so-called called housekeeping account, a type of fundraising allowed under state election law but long criticized by reform groups. Housekeeping accounts can receive unlimited contributions from donors, including corporations. Watchdogs argued that, in practice, donations to housekeeping accounts have been used to subsidize favored candidates backed by political parties, permitted by loopholes and lackluster election law enforcement.
North Carolina – Biden Administration Suggests Supreme Court Drop Election Case
Bloomberg Law – Greg Stohr | Published: 3/20/2023
The Biden administration suggested the U.S. Supreme Court drop a closely watched election case after an unusual twist raised fresh questions about the court’s jurisdiction. The dispute centers on the “independent state legislature theory,” which would oust state judges and other officials from longstanding roles in shaping the rules for federal elections. The case, argued in December, centers on the North Carolina Supreme Court’s rejection of a Republican-drawn congressional map.
Ohio – Cuyahoga County Gave No-Bid, $120,000 Lobbying Contract to Ronayne Campaign Donor
MSN – Lucas Daprile (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/18/2023
A company whose president donated $10,000 to Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne’s campaign later received a $120,000 no-bid lobbying contract from the county. The year-long contract to McCaulley&Company was approved by the Board of Control following a recommendation from the county executive’s office. The board also approved an exemption from competitive bidding on the contract, even though the county interviewed multiple firms before approving its last federal lobbying contract.
Tennessee – Nashville Sues State Over New Council-Slashing Law
MSN – Cassandra Stevenson (Tennessean) | Published: 3/15/2023
Days after Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that will slash Nashville’s metro council in half, the city filed a lawsuit against the state claiming the law violates the Tennessee Constitution and the rights of Davidson County voters. The new law requires city and metropolitan governments to cap their councils at 20 members. In practice, Nashville’s 40-member council is the only body in the state immediately impacted by the legislation. No other city or metropolitan government has a council larger than 20 members.
Texas – The Justice Department’s Fight Against Judge Shopping in Texas
MSN – Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 3/19/2023
The Justice Department challenged three high-profile lawsuits filed in Texas against Biden administration policies, accusing state politicians of choosing small, conservative federal court divisions that have little relevance to their cases but nearly guarantee them a sympathetic judge. It is part of the administration’s first concerted effort to fight what some legal experts say is a growing problem of “forum shopping” – a strategy in which plaintiffs are alleged to cherry-pick judges they want to hear their cases, bucking the random assignment of judges that is considered a tenet of the American legal system.
Utah – Got an Ethics Complaint Against an Elected Official? You’ll Need Insider Knowledge and Email Address.
MSN – Emily Anderson Stern (Salt Lake Tribune) | Published: 3/20/2023
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission was created one decade ago after Utah was rattled by two major scandals that led to the FBI investigating a state attorney general and his predecessor, as well as a lieutenant governor. Annual reports indicate the commission has heard just two complaints, none of which seemingly have been found to have merit and referred to the Legislature for potential action. In that time, the governor-appointed volunteer panel’s operations have been supplemented with nearly $50,000 from the Legislature.
March 17, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 17, 2023
National/Federal No Rest Between Censuses for Congressional Mapmakers DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2023 For just about all of the nation’s history, politicians would fight over redistricting for a short period after each once-a-decade census, then forget about […]
No Rest Between Censuses for Congressional Mapmakers
DNyuz – Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2023
For just about all of the nation’s history, politicians would fight over redistricting for a short period after each once-a-decade census, then forget about congressional maps until the next reapportionment. Now, a string of lawsuits and in-the-works state referendums are poised to redefine the battles over state legislative and congressional lines and leave the country in a state of perpetual redistricting. Not since 2012 and 2014 have all 50 states’ congressional lines remained constant for consecutive elections, a streak unlikely to be broken next year.
Social Media Threats Exploded after Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 Claims, Analysis Finds
MSN – Jessica Guynn and Will Carless (USA Today) | Published: 3/13/2023
Tucker Carlson’s portrayal of the deadly January 6 attack as a largely peaceful event on his Fox News show set off a new wave of social media chatter that includes death threats against Capitol police officers and Democratic leaders, according to experts who monitor extremism and a report from Advance Democracy. The segment downplayed the violence, falsely recasting the mob that breached the Capitol as an “orderly and meek” gathering of “sightseers.”
GOP Rep. Andy Ogles Seems to Have Kept $25,000 From a GoFundMe for a Child Burial Garden
New Republic – Tori Otten | Published: 3/15/2023
U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles appears to have kept money raised through a charitable GoFundMe event. A media investigation found Ogles set up a GoFundMe in 2014 after his son was stillborn. Ogles said he wanted to build a garden where families could bury their stillborn children and sit on benches by the gravestones. It raised almost $25,000, but the garden was never built. GoFundMe confirmed that Ogles received the money.
Sold: Yacht with a waterfall. Price: $19 million. Broker: George Santos.
Yahoo News – Rebecca Davis O’Brien and William Rashbaum (New York Times) | Published: 3/15/2023
A $19 million luxury yacht deal brokered by U.S. Rep. George Santos between two of his wealthy donors has captured the attention of federal and state authorities investigating his campaign finances and personal business dealings. Even if Santos broke no laws, the deal serves as further evidence of an emerging narrative given by people in his political orbit, that Santos seemed to use his campaign not only to win elected office but also as a networking exercise to ingratiate himself with rich donors and enrich himself from those contacts.
House Republicans Quietly Halt Inquiry into Trump’s Finances
Yahoo News – Luke Broadwater and Jonathan Swain (New York Times) | Published: 3/13/2023
House Republicans halted a congressional investigation into whether Donald Trump profited improperly from the presidency, declining to enforce a court-supervised settlement agreement that demanded that Mazars USA, his former accounting firm, produce his financial records to Congress. Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairperson James Comer professed ignorance about the inquiry Democrats opened when they controlled the House, and was instead focusing on whether President Biden and members of his family were involved in an influence-peddling scheme.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Commissioner Will Change Response to Ethics Complaint Following 12News Reports
MSN – Joe Dana (KPNX) | Published: 3/10/2023
A prominent association representing utility commissioners across the country said its name was falsely used to promote a two-day event hosted by the American Gas Association in New York in January. The revelation contradicts a statement filed by Arizona Corporation Commission member Kevin Thompson in response to an ethics complaint. Thompson, a former manager and lobbyist at Southwest Gas, said the meetings were beneficial to the public because it’s the job of commissioners “to reassure there’s regulatory stability in Arizona.”
California – Ethics Commission Wants More Time to Decide If Nonprofits, Other Groups Will Have to Register as Lobbyists
Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 3/9/2023
The Long Beach Ethics Commission said it will continue to work on its recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying law after dozens of nonprofit leaders turned out to its meeting to demand their current exemption from the law remain intact. There are over 600 nonprofits with a location in Long Beach, according to Michelle Byerly, executive director of The Nonprofit Partnership, who told the commission its proposal to add “advocacy” to the law and treat advocates the same as lobbyists would put a great burden on nonprofits.
California – Inside the Financial Ties Between a Controversial Housing Nonprofit and Kevin de León
MSN – Liam Dillon, Benjamin Oreskes, and Doug Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/13/2023
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 2020 was pursuing a lawsuit alleging Los Angeles illegally denied funding for an affordable housing project the nonprofit was proposing. Kevin de León, the area’s incoming city council member who had been elected but not yet taken office, contacted an aide to then-Mayor Eric Garcetti. The aide arranged a video call for De León with city department heads and high-ranking mayoral staffers. But those in the meeting did not know De León was a consultant working for the foundation, a job that would pay him more than $100,000 in the six months prior to his taking office.
California – Lawyers Make Opening Statements in Mark Ridley-Thomas Corruption Trial
MSN – Matt Hamilton (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/8/2023
At the start of the corruption trial of suspended Los Angeles City Councilperson Mark Ridley-Thomas, jurors heard conflicting portraits of the onetime power broker. Defense attorneys cast him as a lifelong public servant who represented the poorest communities of Los Angeles. Prosecutors said Ridley-Thomas was a conniving operator eager to “monetize” his position and conceal a sexual harassment investigation into his son, then a state Assembly member. To preserve the family’s political brand, the elder Ridley-Thomas helped engineer his son’s abrupt resignation from the Legislature, supposedly for medical reasons, and leaned on the University of Southern California for favors to benefit his son.
Colorado – Former Trump Lawyer Jenna Ellis Censured by Colorado Judge for False Statements
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/9/2023
A Colorado judge censured Jenna Ellis, a former senior legal adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign who admitted in state disciplinary proceedings that she made at least 10 false statements about the 2020 election as part of an effort to mislead the public. Ellis is the latest of Trump’s legal aides to face scrutiny for their conduct in the aftermath of the 2020 election. She is the first of the cohort to acknowledge in public that comments she made surrounding the election were false.
Florida – Florida Scoured Math Textbooks for ‘Prohibited Topics.’ Next Up: Social Studies.
DNyuz – Sarah Mervosh (New York Times) | Published: 3/16/2023
In Florida, textbooks have become hot politics, part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign against what he describes as “woke indoctrination” in public schools, particularly when it comes to race and gender. Last year, his administration made a splash when it rejected dozens of math textbooks, citing “prohibited topics.” Now, the state is reviewing curriculum in what is perhaps the most contentious subject in education: social studies. A prominent conservative education group, whose members volunteered to review textbooks, objected to a slew of them, accusing publishers of “promoting their bias.” At least two publishers declined to participate altogether.
Florida – Inside Ron DeSantis’s Politicized Removal of an Elected Prosecutor
Yahoo News – Alexandra Berzon and Ken Bensinger (New York Times) | Published: 3/11/2023
As he travels the country promoting a new book and his expected presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly points to his ouster of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren as an example of the decisive way he has transformed Florida and could remake the nation. He casts Warren as a rogue ideologue whose refusal to enforce the law demanded action. But an examination of the episode reveals a different picture: a governor’s office that seemed driven by a preconceived political narrative, bent on a predetermined outcome, and focused on maximizing media attention for DeSantis.
Georgia – Little-Known Lawyer, a Trump Ally, Draws Scrutiny in Georgia
Yahoo News – Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset (New York Times) | Published: 3/11/2023
At a Georgia Senate hearing after Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, attorney Robert Cheeley presented video clips of election workers handling ballots at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Cheeley spent 15 minutes laying out specious assertions the workers were double- and triple-counting votes. The fact that Cheeley was called to appear before the special grand jury investigating election interference by Trump adds to the evidence that the false claims made by his allies at legislative hearings have been of significant interest.
Hawaii – Hawaii’s New Deputy Economy Chief Has a Powerful Business Partner in The Senate
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 3/15/2023
The business partner of a powerful state senator is on his way to being confirmed as deputy director for Hawaii’s economic development agency. Dane Wicker, a former chief of staff to Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and co-owner of Kilani Brew with Dela Cruz, cruised through a Senate committee hearing on his nomination. Senate rules on conflicts-of-interest apply to legislation in which a senator has a “direct financial interest.” The rules do not have any provisions on nominees before the Senate.
Illinois – ‘ComEd Four’ Bribery Trial to Put Focus on Ex-Speaker Madigan’s Power, State’s Blurry Line Between Politics and Crime
MSN – Jason Meisner and Ray Long (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/12/2023
Four former Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) officials – ex-Chief Executive Officer Anne Pramaggiore, onetime utility lobbyist Mike McClain, retired ComEd executive John Hooker, and ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty – are on trial in federal court, accused of scheming to influence indicted ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Prosecutors alleged the four defendants tried to bribe Madigan, who controlled what proposals the House would consider and approve, from 2011 until 2019 to advance legislation favorable to ComEd and defeat bills the company opposed.
Illinois – As ComEd Bribery Trial Gets Underway, Judge Reverses Course and Will Allow Secret Recordings to Be Released to the Media
WBEZ – Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles (Chicago Sun-Times) | Published: 3/14/2023
The federal judge presiding over the Commonwealth Edison bribery trial reversed course and ruled secret recordings made of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his allies may be released to the media after they are played for jurors. That means people across the state will finally have an opportunity to hear the evidence at the core of the corruption investigation that ended Madigan’s record-breaking tenure as the leader of the state House and landed him under indictment.
Kansas – Kansas Republicans Push Forward with Changes to Ethics Rules Amid Ongoing Investigations
Kansas Reflector – Sherman Smith | Published: 3/15/2023
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s chief of staff urged Republican lawmakers to spend more time studying proposed changes to campaign finance law before moving forward with legislation inspired by ongoing investigations. The House Elections Committee amended and advanced a version of House Bill 2391, which was written by attorneys who represent a GOP political operative. The executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission warned lawmakers the revised bill still contains numerous changes that would limit his agency’s authority.
Kansas – Wichita Council Member Frye’s Vote Buys time for Wife’s Company on City Contract
Yahoo News – Chance Swaim and Matthew Kelly (Wichita Eagle) | Published: 3/15/2023
Wichita City Council member Bryan Frye cast a decisive vote related to a city contract with his wife’s employer, Copp Media Services. Frye’s action raises questions about whether his vote ran afoul of the city’s ethics rules that aim to prevent council members from voting on friend-and-family deals. Frye did not disclose the potential conflict-of-interest or recuse himself from the vote. Mayor Brandon Whipple and council members who knew about it did not raise any public objections during the meeting, citing confusion over who actually voted.
Louisiana – New Orleans Mayor Fights Lowered Recall Signature Threshold
Yahoo News – Kevin McGill (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2023
A court settlement that significantly lowered the number of petition signatures New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s opponents need to force a recall election was challenged in two state courts by Cantrell and one of her supporters. The settlement came after recall organizers sued election officials saying New Orleans voter rolls still list hundreds of dead people and thousands of voters who should be placed on an “inactive” list because they have likely moved. Questions have been raised about Cantrell’s travel expenses and her personal use of a city-owned apartment, among other issues.
Maine – Portland City Council Begins Developing State’s First Municipal Clean Elections Program
Yahoo News – Rachel Ohm (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 3/13/2023
The Portland City Council began developing a new clean elections program the city plans to have in place for the November election. The state in 1996 established the Maine Clean Elections Act, a voluntary program for public campaign funding for state level offices including governor and legislators, but Portland is the state’s first community to establish such a program at the municipal level.
Maryland – Judge Issues Warrant for Roy McGrath, Hogan’s Former Chief of Staff
MSN – Ovetta Wiggins (Washington Post) | Published: 3/13/2023
A federal judge issued a bench warrant for Roy McGrath, once a top aide to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, after he did not appear in court for the first day of trial on wire fraud and embezzlement charges. McGrath was charged in federal and state court in 2021 with dozens of charges stemming from his time working for a quasi-governmental agency he led before serving as Hogan’s chief of staff. He became the subject of an investigation shortly after it was publicly revealed he was given a severance package of nearly $250,000 when he left the Maryland Environmental Service.
Minnesota – Revolving Door at Minnesota Capitol Creates Windstorm
Minnesota Reformer – Michelle Griffith | Published: 3/15/2023
State lawmakers becoming lobbyists in Minnesota is not a new phenomenon, but heavy turnover at the Capitol has clients turning to legislators-turned-lobbyists. Sen. Matt Klein said lobbyists who recently left office have an advantage in information and relationships, and questioned the propriety of the arrangement. David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University said that special access for clients who can afford to hire a former lawmaker could mean less access for average Minnesotans.
Minnesota – Former House Majority Leader, Key Player in THC Law, to Start THC Beverage Company
Minnesota Reformer – Michelle Griffin | Published: 3/15/2023
Former Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is starting a THC beverage company after playing a key role in the passage of the law that legalized the THC edible industry. Winkler said he had no intentions of starting a company last year when he led the effort to legalize low-dose THC products. He only decided to go into the business after he lost the primary election for Hennepin County attorney last August.
Missouri – ‘It Forces You to Be More Creative’: How lobbyists kept their grip on Missouri politics
MSN – Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/12/2023
Missouri voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the state constitution that effectively eliminated lobbyist gifts to state legislators, tightened campaign contribution limits, and further restricted the “revolving door” of lawmakers becoming lobbyists. It was a striking achievement for good government advocates, who had voiced outrage for years over the state’s cozy Capitol scene. But as the fifth anniversary of the Clean Missouri vote approaches, a strong lobbying culture remains as Jefferson City has learned to adapt.
New Jersey – Why Is New Jersey the Only State That’s Never Had a State Song?
Philadelphia Inquirer – Alfred Lubano | Published: 3/14/2023
New Jersey is the only state that has never had a state song. It has a state mollusk shell (the knobbed whelk); a state dance (the square dance); and a state microbe (Streptomyces griseus), and a state animal, flower, fruit, bug, reptile, and dinosaur. “It’s a political hot potato,” said Tom Cunningham, host of the “Springsteen on Sunday” radio program. “You’ve got North, Central, and South Jersey – unique areas with their own ideas about music. Hopefully, one day the twain shall meet. But not now.”
New Mexico – Money in Politics Transparency Nears Finish as Legislative Session Winds Down
New Mexico In Depth – Marjorie Childress | Published: 3/14/2023
An effort to close a loophole in New Mexico’s campaign disclosure laws and bar campaign contributions from lobbyists and political committees to lawmakers during legislative sessions has a tailwind heading into the final week of the legislative session. New additions to Senate Bill 42 would require more timely reporting of political contributions so the public has more complete information just before elections and just before the legislative session each year.
New Mexico – Lobbyists Had Safety Plans and Trainings for NM’s 2023 Session, Fearing Misconduct by Lawmakers
Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/9/2023
This year, the Center for Civic Policy created a safety plan for New Mexico’s 2023 legislative session and shared it with other lobbying organizations around the state. It lays out measures such as staying with colleagues, understanding who to confide in, knowing the surroundings, and taking notes of any incidents that happen. The group also held safety training sessions before and midway through the legislative session with other advocacy organizations. Lan Sena policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, said the Capitol is an unsafe work environment for many people working with advocacy and nonprofit organizations.
New York – NY Troopers PBA Removes Political Director Amid FBI Investigation
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 3/13/2023
The board of directors for the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association (PBA) voted to part ways with the union’s longtime political director, Gordon Warnock, amid an ongoing investigation of the organization’s finances and business dealings. The departure comes after it was reported that the investigation includes examining hundreds of thousands of dollars paid through the years to individuals or companies with connections to the union. A lobbying firm operated by Warnock has done extensive work for the union and subcontracted some of its national work to a limited liability company formed by the PBA’s former president.
New York – Former State Sen. Jeff Klein Loses Appeal Seeking to End Ethics Probe
Albany Times Union – Staff | Published: 5/10/2023
A New York appellate court rejected former state Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s efforts to shut down an ethics panel’s investigation into allegations he violated the law when he allegedly forcibly kissed a female staff member outside an Albany bar in 2015. Documents show that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) found there was a substantial basis to proceed with a case despite a hearing officer’s recommendation it should be dismissed. Klein’s 2020 petition alleged JCOPE exceeded its authority when it rejected the recommendations of hearing officer Richard Rifkin.
New York – NYC Mayor Eric Adams Faces Thousands in Fines for Potential Campaign Finance Violations
Gothamist – Gwynne Hogan | Published: 3/15/2023
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for three alleged violations of campaign finance law based on issues stemming from his 2021 Transition and Inauguration Entity, a fund that recently elected candidates use to cover expenses after they win an election and before they officially take office. The Campaign Finance Board accused Adams of accepting prohibited donations, failing to respond to requests for information and documentation, and failing to close the fund once Adams became mayor in 2022.
New York – Prosecutors Signal Criminal Charges for Trump Are Likely
Seattle Times – William Rashbaum, Ben Protess, and Jonah Bromwich (New York Times) | Published: 3/9/2023
The Manhattan district attorney’s office recently signaled to Donald Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges for his role in the payment of hush money to a porn star, the strongest indication yet prosecutors are nearing an indictment of the former president. The prosecutors offered Trump the chance to testify before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close; it would be unusual for the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.
North Carolina – N.C. High Court Mulls Throwing Out Rulings on Redistricting, Voter ID
MSN – Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 3/14/2023
The North Carolina Supreme Court, now controlled by Republicans following the November midterms, weighed reversing a three-month-old decision aimed at ensuring election maps are drawn fairly. Ahead of oral arguments, critics excoriated the justices for reexamining the redistricting case and a voter ID decision so soon after ruling on them, contending the justices were doing so for partisan reasons instead of legal ones. In December, when Democrats controlled the court, a four-to-three majority issued decisions that went against Republicans on redistricting and threw out the voter ID law.
Ohio – What’s Next in Ohio Corruption Probe After Guilty Verdicts?
ABC News – Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2023
The largest corruption case in Ohio history culminated with guilty verdicts for ex-House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, the former head of the Republican Party. But state Attorney General Dave Yost said it is “only the beginning of accountability” for the now-tainted $1 billion bailout of two aging nuclear power plants. There have been no charges against the FirstEnergy executives who were fired in the wake of the scandal. They include former Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jones and former Vice President for External Affairs Michael Dowling, whose texts, emails, and travel itineraries factored heavily into the case against Householder.
Ohio – Guilty: Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, ex-Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges convicted in $60M bribery scheme
MSN – Jake Zuckerman (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/9/2023
A jury found former House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Matt Borges guilty in the largest public corruption case in the state’s history. Prosecutors accused Householder and Borges of being part of a scheme to funnel nearly $61 million in “dark money” from First Energy Corp. and its subsidiary to elect Householder as speaker, solidify his power base, secure enough votes to pass a ratepayer-funded bailout of two nuclear plants that benefitted a FirstEnergy subsidiary, and ensure the law survived a ballot campaign to overturn it.
Oklahoma – Okla. Lawmaker Says Bible Endorses Corporal Punishment of Disabled Children
MSN – María Luisa Paúl (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2023
Oklahoma Rep. John Talley thought his bill to bar schools from spanking children with disabilities would find little to no opposition in the Legislature. What seemed like a rare bipartisan moment quickly came crashing down as other Republican lawmakers invoked the Bible to argue against Talley’s House Bill 1028, claiming in some instances that “God’s word is higher than all the so-called experts,” as Rep. Jim Olsen said during debate. The bill wound up six votes short of the 51 it needed to pass.
Pennsylvania – ‘Ya Fav Trashman’ Mishandled Campaign Funds and Bilked Staffers. He Says He Wants to Make Things Right.
MSN – Mike Martin (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/10/2023
Terrill Haigler, a former city sanitation worker who gained Instagram fame under his alter ego “Ya Fav Trashman,” ended his campaign for Philadelphia City Council, telling his thousands of social media followers he did not get enough signatures to appear on the ballot. But behind the scenes, financial problems plagued his campaign. Haigler has not paid his staffers, used campaign funding for personal expenses in a possible violation of Pennsylvania law, and could face penalties from the city’s Board of Ethics for failing to account for the money.
Tennessee – Tennessee Governor OKs Bill to Cut Nashville Council in Half
Yahoo News – Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi (Associated Press) | Published: 3/9/2023
Republican lawmakers and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed off on cutting Democratic-leaning Nashville’s metro council in half, a move that follows the council’s rejection of efforts to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. The move drew an immediate outcry and is expected to spark legal challenges. Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s administration and others say the change will throw this year’s council elections into chaos, spurring the need to redraw districts after more than 40 candidates already launched campaigns.
Tennessee – Lt. Gov. Randy McNally Faces Criticism for Comments on Young Man’s Mature Instagram Photo
Yahoo News – Melissa Brown (Tennessean) | Published: 3/9/2023
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is facing controversy after reports revealed his Instagram account liked half-nude photos of a gay man whose account he follows despite McNally’s support for anti-LGBTQ legislation. Screenshots show McNally’s official account posting emojis of red hearts, fire, hands clapping, and a smiling face with hearts for eyes. The state Senate, with McNally as its leader, advanced and passed bans this year on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restrictions on where certain drag shows can take place.
Texas – Legislature Has Little Appetite to Fund Ken Paxton’s Settlement with Whistleblowers
Texas Tribune – James Barragán | Published: 3/13/2023
Texas lawmakers are facing a choice: approve $3.3 million in state funds to end a lawsuit accusing Attorney General Ken Paxton of improperly firing four whistleblowers or reject an out-of-court settlement – potentially adding millions of dollars in costs while leaving the outcome of the lawsuit to fate in a long-shot attempt to make Paxton pay. The settlement would resolve a lawsuit that alleges Paxton fired former high-ranking deputies in retaliation for accusing him of using his office to benefit a friend and political donor. But lawmakers have shown little appetite to use state funds to help Paxton settle the case.
Texas – Ken Paxton’s Campaign Against Election Crimes Ensnared a Texas Justice of the Peace Three Times Before Judges Thwarted the Efforts
Texas Tribune – Alejandro Serrano | Published: 3/15/2023
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office in 2021 pursued criminal election fraud charges Tomas Ramirez III, a justice of the peace in Medina County. An indictment accused Ramirez of illegally possessing absentee ballots of 17 voters during the 2018 GOP primary in which he toppled a Republican incumbent by nearly 100 votes. Ramirez said he never had any voter’s absentee ballots. The indictment did not explain how the alleged scheme worked or the role Ramirez was accused of playing.
March 10, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 10, 2023
National/Federal Group Seeks Disbarment of a Trump-Aligned Lawyer for a Key Jan. 6 Witness DNyuz – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 3/6/2023 In appearing before the January 6 committee last year, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted […]
Group Seeks Disbarment of a Trump-Aligned Lawyer for a Key Jan. 6 Witness
DNyuz – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 3/6/2023
In appearing before the January 6 committee last year, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted Donald Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to the attacks on the Capitol, shared how her original lawyer had tried to influence her testimony. While represented by Stefan Passantino, Cassidy told the committee she remembered little. But after hiring a different lawyer, she provided damaging details about Trump and disclosed Passantino pressured her to protect Trump. Now, several dozen prominent legal figures are seeking to revoke Passantino’s license to practice law.
Election Deniers Take Aim at Group That Helps States Maintain Voter Rolls
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/6/2023
At a time of hyperpolarization over voting and elections, Democrats and Republicans had largely managed to agree on one thing – that a little-known data-sharing consortium of more than 30 states has helped keep voter rolls updated and free of opportunities for fraud. But the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) has been straining lately under the weight of accusations and misinformation from election deniers. Now, ERIC’s survival is in jeopardy. Should ERIC collapse, its boosters say the country would lose one of its most powerful tools for keeping ballot fraud at bay just as states are beginning to prepare for the 2024 elections.
John Fetterman Sponsored a Bill from the Hospital. Here’s What He Can and Can’t Do in the Senate During Treatment.
MSN – Jonathan Tamari (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/7/2023
Despite remaining hospitalized while undergoing treatment for depression, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman cosponsored a bill to avert future crises like the one unfolding after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Fetterman’s office says it is one example of how he is staying engaged with his job. In the face of scrutiny on his recovery, and questions about his long-term health after a stroke in May, Fetterman’s team points to the early activity to argue he is still able to fulfill key aspects of his new job.
Trump Can Be Sued by Police Over Jan. 6 Riot, Justice Department Says
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2023
Former President Trump can be held liable in court for the actions of the mob that overtook the Capitol January 6, 2021, the Justice Department said. Two officers with the U.S. Capitol Police, joined by 11 Democratic House members, are seeking to hold Trump liable for physical and psychological injuries they suffered during the riot. Trump has argued he is protected from the lawsuit by the absolute immunity conferred on a president performing his official duties.
Met Gala Getup Gets Ethics Review for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
MSN – Justin Papp (Roll Call) | Published: 3/2/2023
The House ethics committee published findings from an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on allegations she failed to pay in a timely manner for rental clothes, accessories, and services related to her attendance at the 2021 Met Gala. The report states Ocasio-Cortez may have “accepted impermissible gifts” in connection with the September 2021 event in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law.
House Ethics Committee Launches Investigation of Rep. George Santos
MSN – Amy Wang and Azi Paybarah (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2023
The House Committee on Ethics will investigate U.S. Rep. George Santos, who has admitted to fabricating large swaths of his biography and who has been accused of breaking campaign finance laws. The committee voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to look into a litany of claims about the freshman congressman, including about his past business practices, campaign finance expenditures, and an allegation of sexual misconduct.
Trump Spurred ‘Existential Crisis’ at Fox News, Lawsuit Exhibits Show
MSN – Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023
For years, Fox News executives and hosts cultivated a close relationship with Donald Trump. But after he lost the 2020 presidential election and turned his back on the network – inspiring many once-loyal viewers to do the same – the relationship curdled. The ensuing pressure caused tension, second-guessing, and infighting within Fox on the scale of an “existential crisis,” as one senior executive called it, a cache of internal communications released as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit indicates.
‘Just a Lie’: Senate Republicans blast Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 narrative
MSN – Paul Kane, Marianna Sotomayor, Liz Goodwin, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023
Senate Republicans blasted Fox News for airing a show that twisted details of the attack on the U.S. Capitol into a conspiracy-fueled narrative, breaking ranks with House GOP colleagues who cheered on the show. From Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to rank-and-file lawmakers, Republican senators largely rejected Fox personality Tucker Carlson’s vision of the deadly insurrection as a mostly peaceful protest that involved little violence. The criticism from left House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the defensive following his decision to grant Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of video from Capitol Police security cameras that day.
Trump-Endorsed Congressional Candidate Admits Taking Illegal Donation
MSN – Paul Duggan (Washington Post) | Published: 3/8/2023
A failed congressional candidate pleaded guilty to committing a felony campaign finance violation during her bid to replace former U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a political ally and family friend, after Meadows chose not to seek reelection. Lynda Bennett admitted she borrowed $25,000 from a family member in 2019 and illegally funneled the money, in her own name, into her Republican campaign in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.
New Democratic Digital Firm Wants to Make Candidate Fundraising Less Annoying
MSN – Jessica Piper (Politico) | Published: 3/8/2023
As 2024 Race Begins, Special Counsel Advances with Focus on Trump Lawyers
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Spencer Hsu, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 3/3/2023
The actions of federal prosecutors investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election highlight the ways in which the probes are unusual and complex – turning some of Donald Trump’s many current or former attorneys into witnesses or potential investigative targets. Special counsel Jack Smith’s pace appears to be quickening as the 2024 presidential election starts to take shape, with Trump once again a candidate. Legal experts say if Smith brings criminal charges against Trump, they would likely be pending when the GOP primary debates begin in August.
More Black Women Run for Office, but Prospects Fade the Higher They Go
Yahoo News – Jazmine Ulloa (New York Times) | Published: 3/8/2023
Black women have made tremendous gains: Kamala Harris broke barriers as the nation’s first Black, Asian American and female vice president. More Black women are leading major cities, and many more have sought U.S. Senate seats and governorships. But winning those offices still poses enduring challenges for women of color, and Black women in particular. Many confront both blatant racism and sexism, along with subtler forms of racial and gender bias that, candidates said, make it more difficult for them to raise money to pay for the costly work of hiring staff and buying advertising in expensive markets.
GOP Bill Would Bar Fellow Rep. George Santos from Profiting from Campaign Lies
Yahoo News – Michael McAuliff (New York Daily News) | Published: 3/7/2023
U.S. Rep. George Santos should not be able to cash in on his infamy, a group of Republican lawmakers declared. They introduced a pair of bills that they said would block him from profiting from his web of lies. Santos’ notoriety soared after reports revealed much of his life story that he campaigned on could not be confirmed. Among other things, he claimed to be the descendent of Jews who fled the holocaust, that he worked for Goldman Sachs, and that his mother died in the Twin Towers on September 11, none of which appears to be true.
Canada – Doug Ford’s Campaign Finance Law Struck Down by Court
Toronto Star – Robert Benzie | Published: 3/6/2023
The Ontario Court of Appeal struck down Premier Doug Ford’s controversial campaign finance law that limits spending by unions and other third parties. The court gave Ford’s government “12 months to allow Ontario to fashion Charter-compliant legislation.” The coalition of plaintiffs argued their members’ rights were unfairly hindered by the law preventing third-party PACs from spending more than $600,000 on advertising and other activities in the 12 months before an election.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Sues After County Puts an Election Skeptic in Charge of Voting
DNyuz – Neil Vigdor (New York Times) | Published: 3/8/2023
An Arizona county is being sued by the state’s attorney general after it transferred voting oversight to the county’s Republican recorder, who has cast doubts about past election results in a place where former President. Trump won nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2020. It is the latest clash between Democrats in statewide office and Cochise County, a deeply Republican area in southeastern Arizona, where conspiracy theories about voter fraud and irregularities still swirl.
Arizona – Judge Orders Sanctions Against Arizona GOP Candidate Who Refused to Accept Loss
MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 3/6/2023
A judge ordered sanctions against Mark Finchem and his attorney over false claims they made about election fraud after Finchem, the Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, lost his race in November and refused to accept the results. Weeks after the election, Finchem sued his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes, and then-Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, challenging the results of the vote and requesting that a new election be held. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Iyer Julian tossed his suit in December, saying it was groundless.
California – Ninth Circuit Upholds San Francisco Initiative Donor Disclosure Rules
Courthouse News Service – Eric Burkett | Published: 3/8/2023
A federal appeals court panel affirmed a lower court ruling that said providing the public with information about donors of ballot measures is in the public interest. San Franciscans Supporting Prop B sued in 2022, protesting the city’s requirement that committees must run a message disclosing their campaign’s top three donors of $5,000 or more at the top of campaign ads.
California – Nonprofits, Neighborhood Groups Push Back Against Rule That Would Regulate Them as Lobbyists
Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 3/6/2023
As the Long Beach Ethics Commission readies its recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance, community groups, nonprofits, and others are apprehensive over what it could mean for the future of their ability to engage with city officials. The law has exempted nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, and business improvement districts. But that could soon change, according to proposed amendments that could be sent to the city council.
California – Ex-SF Department Head to Get $4K Fine After City Hall Scandal
San Francisco Standard – Michael Barba | Published: 3/7/2023
Yahoo News – Matt Hamilton and Katie Licari (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/6/2023
When a federal grand jury indicted Mark Ridley-Thomas on corruption charges, the veteran Los Angeles politician protested his innocence and vowed to fight. There was one problem: how would he pay his lawyers? The lifelong civil servant lost his income after the city council suspended him, and the city controller halted his salary and benefits. Then a network of supporters opened their wallets. These donors helped him amass nearly $1.5 million in two defense funds and allowed him to retain an elite legal team.
Georgia – Ga. Republicans Push for Prosecutorial Oversight Amid Trump Election Probe
MSN – Matthew Brown (Washington Post) | Published: 3/7/2023
Georgia’s Republican legislators are pushing bills that would make it easier to remove local prosecutors from office, an effort that prominent Democratic prosecutors have decried as “dangerous” overreach. The move comes as Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Lewis considers bring charges against former President Trump and his allies over 2020 election interference. GOP lawmakers have said the measures are needed to rein in reform-minded prosecutors and crack down on crime.
Idaho – Rape Victim Sues Idaho Lawmakers for Outing and Harassing Her
Courthouse News Service – Edvard Pettersson | Published: 3/8/2023
A woman who was raped by former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger sued him and state Rep. Priscilla Giddings for allegedly outing and harassing her after she came forward with her allegations. Jane Doe reported the rape, and the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into her allegations. This prompted von Ehlinger to provide unredacted copies of his confidential response to the committee, which contained intimate details about Doe, and to the media. The conservative online publication Redoubt News then ran a story that included a photo of Doe when she was a minor.
Idaho – The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College
Yahoo News – Charles Homans (New York Times) | Published: 3/6/2023
For most of the past two years, North Idaho College’s (NIC) governing board has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance. Trustees backed by the county Republican Party hold a majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.” The injection of such sweeping political aims into the routine administration of a community college of 4,600 students, one better known locally for its technical training programs than the politics of its faculty, has devolved into a full-blown crisis.
Illinois – Vallas Loans $100,100 to His Bid for Mayor, Lifting State Limits on Campaign Contributions
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 3/2/2023
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson can now raise nearly unlimited amounts of cash for their campaigns for mayor of Chicago after Vallas loaned $100,100 to his campaign. Had Vallas not contributed more than $100,000 to his campaign, state-imposed donation limits would have been in place for the April 4 runoff. Caps on contributions imposed by city law remain in place.
Kansas – As Special Interests Try to Influence Kansas Lawmakers, Some Want to Loosen the Rules
MSN – Jonathan Shorman and Katie Bernard (Kansas City Star) | Published: 3/6/2023
In response to a sprawling campaign finance investigation by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Republican lawmakers authored a bill that would expand the ability of legislators to seek campaign contributions during the legislative session. It would also substantially weaken the commission’s investigatory powers, including its authority to issue subpoenas. Collectively, the changes could shift the balance of power between lawmakers and special interests, campaign finance experts and other critics of the legislation argue.
Louisiana – Council Opens Investigation of Cantrell Mailer and Lobbying Firm Connected to Vitter, Scalise
NOLA.com – John Stanton | Published: 3/8/2023
The New Orleans City Council opened an investigation into a mailer touting Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s work in office and whether she hired a public relations firm represented by former U.S. Sen. David Vitter and a former top aide to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. The mailer was sent to thousands of city voters at taxpayer expense as organizers of a campaign to recall the mayor faced a February 22 deadline. The mailer appears to violate several state laws, including a prohibition of using public funds to produce ads that feature an elected official’s name or likeness.
Maryland – Baltimore Bought $30,000 in Tickets to CIAA Tournament; Officials Strike Deal for Lower Price Amid Questions
MSN – Emily Opilo (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 3/8/2023
As Baltimore makes a play to continue as host for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, the pressure has been on city officials to show their enthusiasm. Visit Baltimore President Al Hutchinson appeared at a city council meeting to encourage council members and their families to attend. He also said Visit Baltimore, the city’s nonprofit marketing group, would give each council member a free ticket to the final games of the tournament. Visit Baltimore’s offer, however, proved not to be aligned with the city’s ethics ordinance.
Massachusetts – Campaign Finance Regulators Investigating Whether MassGOP Coordinated with Super PAC, in Violation of Law
MSN – Emma Platoff (Boston Globe) | Published: 3/6/2023
State campaign finance regulators are investigating whether the Massachusetts Republican Party coordinated with an outside super PAC, in a potential violation of state law. E-mails show Jim Lyons, the former state GOP chairperson, sent multiple messages last fall to Antoine Nader, chair of the Mass Freedom Independent Expenditure PAC, referring to opposition research Lyons had solicited on Maura Healey during her bid for governor.
Minnesota – Tighter Lobbyist Rules Considered at Capitol Would Get at Disclosure of Topics Lobbied, Not Just Paper Clips
MinnPost – Peter Callaghan | Published: 3/2/2023
Three years of negotiations between the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and people who lobby the Legislature has produced an agreement to tighten disclosure rules. The deal is found in Senate File 2121 that has bipartisan sponsorship. It would update decades-old rules that required lobbyists to disclose how much they spent on phones and postage but did not require them to disclose many details about which issues they were trying to influence. The bill requires more specifics in twice-a-year lobbyist reports and the annual reports by the companies and organizations that hire lobbyists.
Minnesota – Session Fundraising Lockdown Doesn’t Close Off All Avenues
MPR – Brian Bakst | Published: 3/2/2023
A long-standing law in Minnesota restricts certain political donations during the regular legislative session but it is not the barrier to influence that it has been held up to be. Major political groups and state parties remain open for contributions. They also can rely on the same officials restricted by law, such as registered lobbyists or associations with matters before the Legislature, to draw donors to fundraisers as long as the lawmakers are not called hosts.
New Jersey – The Last New Jersey Reporter on Capitol Hill Just Got Laid Off
MSN – Elahe Izadi (Washington Post) | Published: 3/4/2023
As Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Newark Star-Ledger and several affiliated media outlets, Jonathan Salant combed through campaign finance reports, monitored voting patterns, and cornered members of Congress in Capitol hallways to answer his questions – until he was laid off. Even at a time of mass layoffs across the news industry, Salant’s recent dismissal caused alarm in both Washington and New Jersey, with the same politicians he so closely scrutinized protesting the decision and imploring the newspaper’s parent company to reverse it.
New Mexico – Lawmakers Pass Legislation Through the Senate Specifying Standards of Political Conduct
Source New Mexico – Megan Gleason | Published: 3/8/2023
Bills to ensure professionalism and safety at the Capitol are making their way through the New Mexico Legislature. Rep. Kathleen Cates said the legislation was spurred because the state Supreme Court held that New Mexico’s main anti-corruption provisions are not specific enough to be criminally enforceable.
Oregon – Oregon Democrats Say They’re Serious About Capping Political Donations, but Their Proposals Include Loopholes
MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/8/2023
Oregon – Portland Cop-Stacked Firm Loses City’s Truth-and-Reconciliation Contract After No-Bid Process
MSN – Maxine Bernstein (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 3/8/2023
City officials were set last year to award a $200,000 contract for a truth and reconciliation project to a firm stacked with retired Portland police officers as advisers until a tip revealed that the city failed to seek competitive bids. TrustLab had no track record of doing the kind of restorative justice work the project demanded: improving trust between Portland police and city residents, the city auditor’s office found. The city has since put bids on indefinite hold.
Pennsylvania – Pa. House Lawmaker Accused of Sexual Harassment Says He Will Resign
Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 3/8/2023
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Zabel, who is accused of sexually harassing multiple people including two sitting state lawmakers, said he will resign. His decision comes a week after union lobbyist Andi Perez publicly accused him of sexually harassing her, and the same day that state Rep. Abby Major made a similar accusation. At least two other people have accused Zabel of similar harassment. One is a sitting lawmaker who has requested anonymity; the other is Zabel’s former campaign manager, Colleen Kennedy, who wrote a public essay about his behavior.
Rhode Island – Can a Firefighter Preside Over Firefighter Bills? Here’s What the RI Ethics Commission Said
Yahoo News – Katherine Gregg (Providence Journal) | Published: 3/7/2023
State Rep. Stephen Casey, a Woonsocket firefighter, won Rhode Island Ethics Commission clearance to preside over hearings and vote on a package of bills sought by the state’s firefighter lobby. While the Ethics Code bars public officials from taking part “in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest,” there is what is broadly called “a class exception.”
South Dakota – Bill to Ban South Dakota Lawmakers’ Spouses from Being Private Lobbyists Fails
Yahoo News – Annie Todd (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 3/6/2023
Texas – Changes to City Lobbying Rules OK’d by Ethics Review Commission
Austin Monitor – Chad Swiatecki | Published: 3/6/2023
The Ethics Review Commission approved a series of amendments to Austin’s lobbying regulations. The city clerk’s office suggested them to clarify issues regarding lobbyists’ registration and renewal fees and quarterly activity reports, as well as how the city levies the $50 late fees when filings and payments are late. The changes are set to be voted on by the city council on March 23.
Texas – Houston PAC Leaders Face $45K in Fines for Operating Illegally, Not Filing Finance Reports
MSN – Yilun Cheng (Houston Chronicle) | Published: 3/2/2023
The state Ethics Commission issued a $45,000 fine for Terrence Shanks and Damella Wilkerson, the president and the director of finance of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County for operating without a campaign treasurer, failing to file required reports, and possibly selling endorsements to local candidates. PACs are required to submit semiannual reports. The last time the PAC filed a report was in 2014. Since then, however, it has continued to carry out political activities, including publishing endorsements lists that included candidates who have donated to the group, commission investigators found.
Virginia – Virginia General Assembly Adjourns for 2023 After Passing Modest Campaign Finance Reform
OpenSecrets – Jimmy Cloutier | Published: 2/28/2023
The Virginia General Assembly ended the 2023 legislative session having passed only one campaign finance bill to the dismay of activists who say the state’s election laws need reform. Virginia’s laws governing political spending are among the least restrictive in the country. Under this system, total state-level fundraising in legislative races more than tripled over the last two decades. The legislation that passed, Senate Bill 1427, would expand disclosure laws by creating new filing deadlines and require PACs to report large donations more frequently.
March 3, 2023 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 3, 2023
National/Federal Indian Americans Rapidly Climbing Political Ranks DNyuz – Maggie Astor and Jill Cowan (New York Times) | Published: 2/27/2023 Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S., Americans of Indian descent in 20123 were barely represented in politics. […]
Indian Americans Rapidly Climbing Political Ranks
DNyuz – Maggie Astor and Jill Cowan (New York Times) | Published: 2/27/2023
Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S., Americans of Indian descent in 20123 were barely represented in politics. Ten years later, the 118th Congress includes five Indian Americans; nearly 50 are in state Legislatures. Vice President Kamala Harris is Indian American. Nikki Haley’s campaign announcement makes 2024 the third consecutive cycle in which an Indian American has run for president, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s newly announced candidacy makes it the first cycle with two.
Student Loan Case Could Redefine Limits of Presidential Power
DNyuz – Michael Shear and Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 3/1/2023
One of President Biden’s most ambitious proposals, a $400 billion program to forgive student loan debt for 40 million Americans, could become the latest victim of a legal tug of war with the U.S. Supreme Court over the powers of the presidency. The case has the potential to curtail Biden just as newly empowered Republicans in the House have vowed to block his every move in Congress. It will set additional legal precedents, potentially defining new limits for presidential power.
Rep. Scott Perry Fights to Keep Phone from Team Probing Jan. 6 Attack
MSN – Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/23/2023
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry is asking an appeals court to block a search of his cellphone by the special counsel investigating the insurrection at the Capitol. He is supported by bipartisan House leadership in arguing the speech or debate clause of the Constitution bars the Justice Department from seeing the phone contents. After the 2020 election, Perry pushed the White House and Justice Department to investigate implausible election fraud claims. He was also involved in the effort to install as acting attorney general Jeffrey Clark, who backed plans to block Biden from taking office.
Trump White House Pressured Disney to Censor … Jimmy Kimmel
MSN – Asawin Suebsaeng (Rolling Stone) | Published: 2/26/2023
In early 2018, then-President Trump was so upset by late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s comedic jabs he directed his White House staff to call up one of Disney’s top executives in Washington, D.C., to complain and demand action. Disney owns ABC, on which Jimmy Kimmel Live! has long aired. The following year, Trump directed his staff and attorneys to see whether the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department could retaliate against late night shows critical of him after he was incensed by the jokes about him on SNL.
Murdoch Admits Some Fox Hosts ‘Were Endorsing’ Election Falsehoods
MSN – Jeremy Barr, Sarah Ellison, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2023
Embattled Rep. Ogles Acknowledges Misrepresenting His College Major
MSN – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2023
Showdown Before the Raid: FBI agents and prosecutors argued over Trump
MSN – Carol Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein, and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) | Published: 3/1/2023
Months of disputes between Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents over how best to try to recover classified documents from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence led to a tense showdown near the end of July last year. It was one of several previously unreported clashes in a tug of war between two arms of the Justice Department over how aggressively to pursue a criminal investigation of a former president. The FBI conducted an unprecedented raid and recovered more than 100 classified items.
Dark Money and Special Deals: How Leonard Leo and his friends benefited from his judicial activism
MSN – Heidi Przybyla (Politico) | Published: 3/1/2023
A network of political nonprofits formed by judicial activist Leonard Leo moved at least $43 million to a new firm he is leading, raising questions about how his conservative legal movement is funded. Leo’s own personal wealth appeared to have ballooned as his fundraising prowess accelerated since his efforts to cement the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority helped to bring about its decision to overturn abortion rights. Most recently, Leo reaped a $1.6 billion windfall from a single donor in what is likely the biggest single political gift in U.S. history.
Judge Won’t Unseal Details of Trump’s Privilege Fight Over Jan. 6 Grand Jury
MSN – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023
U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell rejected a bid to obtain access to details of former President Trump’s efforts to block testimony by aides to a grand jury investigating his effort to derail the transfer of power after the 2020 election. Howell said a federal court rule mandating grand jury secrecy precluded the release of court opinions and other filings about disputes she has ruled on behind closed doors. The New York Times and Politico petitioned Howell to unseal portions of the grand jury proceedings in October, citing the historic nature of the secret rulings she had issued. The Justice Department opposed the unsealing, prompting Howell’s decision.
New Indictment Details Bankman-Fried’s Illegal Campaign Contributions
Yahoo News – Declan Harty and Sam Sutton (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023
Yahoo News – Lisa Lerer and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 3/1/2023
For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) occupied a center ring in Republican politics. This year, Donald Trump will be back at the four-day gathering, joined by a long list of right-wing media provocateurs, culture-war activists, and a smattering of senators. Missing from the agenda: many of the Republicans seen as the future of the party. Some Republicans say the CPAC gathering has increasingly become more like a sideshow than a featured act, one that seems made almost exclusively for conservative media.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – AG Steve Marshall Accuses Alabama Ethics Director Tom Albritton of ‘Self-Dealing’ from Charitable Trust
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 3/1/2023
State Attorney General Steve Marshall accused Alabama Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton of improperly benefiting from a charitable trust for which Albritton was a board member because Albritton’s children received more than $100,000 in scholarship money from the fund. The accusation came in a civil case and is not a criminal allegation. Marshall alleged Albritton and two other members of the board breached their duties by engaging in “self-dealing” or by failing to prevent it.
Arizona – Pro-Lake PAC Didn’t Fabricate Its Source of $2.1 Million, Officials Concluded Last Year
Arizona Mirror – Jim Small | Published: 2/27/2023
A campaign finance complaint accusing a super PAC that spent $2.1 million boosting Kari Lake’s bid for Arizona governor of inventing the source of its funding was quietly dismissed last year after elections officials determined a media report questioning the money’s origin was inaccurate. In July 2022, the Arizona Republic reported on the mysterious source of more than $2 million that had been spent on television ads to help Lake win her Republican primary contest against wealthy developer Karrin Taylor Robson.
Arizona – Arizona Governor Seeks Ethics Review of Former Attorney General
MSN – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 2/25/2023
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is seeking a review of what her office alleges was “likely unethical conduct” by the state’s former attorney general, Mark Brnovich. A letter sent from the governor’s office to the State Bar of Arizona follows the disclosure of records showing Brnovich, a Republican, withheld findings by his own investigators refuting claims of fraud in the 2020 election and mischaracterized his office’s probe of voting in the state’s largest county. The letter signed calls the conduct “harmful to our democracy, our State, and the legal profession itself.”
California – California Business Groups File Lawsuit Seeking to Block New Campaign Finance Law
MSN – Theresa Clift (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 2/24/2023
A new lawsuit seeks to block a state law that requires city and county elected officials to recuse themselves from certain decisions that would financially benefit any entity or person that donated over $250 to that official’s campaign in the past year. It allows the official to return the money to cast a vote. The law applies to permits, licenses, and contracts, and might also be expanded to things like rezoning for development projects, said the bill’s author. The suit alleges lawmakers never had the authority to amend the Political Reform Act of 1974 in such a significant way.
California – Anaheim Officials Reverse Course and Fully Fund an Independent City Corruption Probe
Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio and Hosam Elattar | Published: 3/1/2023
The Anaheim City Council decided to fully fund an independent, city-commissioned corruption probe after hesitating earlier in February, which fueled outcry amongst many residents and activist groups. Council members also voted to allow investigators to share information about possible criminal misconduct with the district attorney’s office. The investigation was launched in August after revelations of an FBI corruption probe, in which federal agents allege Disneyland resort area interests and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce wielded outsized influence on policy making at City Hall. They help fund city council campaigns.
Colorado – A Piece of Colorado Capitol History Is for Sale on eBay for $9,000. State Officials Want It Back.
Colorado Sun – Jessie Paul | Published: 3/1/2023
Sage Naumann, a former staffer at the Colorado Legislature, was conducting his occasional nerd search of state relics on eBay when an item caught his eye: “ORIGINAL BRONZE WALL SCONCE FROM THE COLORADO STATE CAPITOL BLDG. IN DENVER COLO.” The list price was $8,995. The Capitol Building Advisory Committee determined it wants the sconce – a decorative light fixture – back. The eBay listing has prompted a larger discussion about how to get missing Capitol relics back when they are discovered.
Florida – Jason Brodeur Wants Pay-to-Play Blog Posts About Elected Officials Reported with the State
Florida Politics – Jacob Ogles | Published: 3/1/2023
Florida could require blogs paid to produce content about elected officials to register and report that activity. Senate Bill 1316 requires reporting with the state “if a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post.” Under the bill, bloggers must file monthly reports that list what posts mention those officials, along with disclosing any individual who paid for the posts and the amount paid.
Florida – DeSantis Takes Over Disney District, Punishing Company
MSN – Anthony Izaguirre (Associated Press) | Published: 2/27/2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that gives him control of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district, punishing the company over its opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The bill requires DeSantis to appoint a five-member board to oversee the government services the Disney district provides in its theme park properties in Florida. The signing came as DeSantis gears up for an expected presidential run and marks a high-profile legislative victory for a governor whose leveraging of cultural and political divides has pushed him to the front of national Republican politics.
Florida – Federal Judge Blocks Part of Florida Law Banning Elected Officials from Lobbying Other Governments
MSN – Anthony Man (South Florida Sun Sentinel) | Published: 2/28/2023
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom struck down part of Florida’s ban on paid lobbying by elected officials. The temporary injunction prohibits enforcement of the provision that bars elected officials from paid lobbying on behalf of clients before any other government entity. The judge let stand a six-year ban on certain lobbying activities by former government officials once they leave office. The law has already had an impact. Some elected officials who have worked as lobbyists stopped. Others resigned their government posts.
Florida – DeSantis Wants to Roll Back Press Freedoms – with an Eye Toward Overturning Supreme Court Ruling
Yahoo News – Matt Dixon (Politico) | Published: 2/23/2023
At the Gov. Ron DeSantis’s urging, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature is pushing to weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits. The proposal is part DeSantis’s ongoing feud with media companies he claims are biased against Republicans as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid. The proposal is being positioned to spark a larger legal battle with the goal of eventually overturning New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation.
Georgia – Judge Overseeing Trump Georgia Grand Jury Speaks After Foreperson’s Controversial Interviews
Yahoo News – Olivia Rubin (ABC News) | Published: 2/27/2023
After the foreperson of the grand jury investigating former President Trump and a push to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia spoke out in several headline-making interviews, the judge overseeing the case said jurors “can talk about the final report.” But Judge Robert McBurney noted the matter can get “problematic” if jurors start to “synthesize the testimony” and the group’s thoughts on it. The foreperson, Emily Kohrs, gave interviews to news outlets regarding her work as a juror, including that the panel had recommended indictments against multiple people.
Illinois – In 4 Years, Lori Lightfoot Went from Breakout Political Star to Divisive Mayor of a Chicago Beset by Pandemic and Crime
MSN – Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/1/2023
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s failure to advance to a runoff election represents an astonishing fall from power four years after she was ushered into City Hall with a promise of reform. Instead, Lightfoot struggled through a storm of skyrocketing crime, the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of personality conflicts that left her labeled as a divisive leader who was unable to build political coalitions or maintain relationships.
Massachusetts – Several Thorny Political Corruption Cases Await New Attorney General Andrea Campbell
MSN – Samantha Gross (Boston Globe) | Published: 2/26/2023
Among the many different types of crimes that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office investigates, none present quite the minefield as the prosecution of another politician. Some previous state prosecutors pursued such cases with vigor. Others, less so. And either way, they usually got criticized, for being too zealous or too timid. The newly elected attorney general, Andrea Campbell, inherited several high-profile political cases, including allegations of illegal campaign finance activity by a sitting state senator and the former head of the Massachusetts GOP and pending criminal charges against a former state senator and congressional candidate.
Montana – Lawmakers Look to Define Investigative Authority After Judicial Conflict
Helena Independent Record – Seaborn Larson | Published: 3/1/2023
After the Montana Legislature’s investigation into the judiciary last session was blocked by the courts’ finding they had lacked authority to do so, Republicans worked to fill that gap. Senate Bill 490 would provide a scope and use of the Legislature’s “investigative powers.” The state Supreme Court in 2021 found lawmakers needed a legislative purpose to investigate the judiciary.
New Jersey – Assembly Postpones Vote on Bill That Could Gut Some NJ Campaign Finance Rules
MSN – Ashley Balcerzak (Bergen Record) | Published: 2/27/2023
The New Jersey Assembly postponed a vote on an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system that would eviscerate “pay-to-play” rules, give the governor more control over the agency that polices election law, and increase what individuals and companies can donate. Assemblyperson Carol Murphy confirmed the chamber did not have enough votes to pass the measure and pulled the bill to take a closer look at the last-minute amendments.
New Mexico – Bill to End Gag on Ethics Complainants Clears Committee
NM Political Report – Susan Dunlap | Published: 2/25/2023
The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that would allow someone who files an ethics complaint in New Mexico to speak publicly on the matter. The current law prohibits both the complainant and committee staff from speaking publicly about a complaint. House Bill 169 generated a discussion around the constitutional right to free speech.
New Mexico – Trump Cowboy Found Not Guilty of Campaign Finance Charge
Yahoo News – Associated Press | Published: 3/1/2023
Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin was found not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of failing to register a political committee in New Mexico. Cowboys for Trump staged horseback parades to spread Donald Trump’s conservative message on issues. Griffin invoked free speech protections in declining to register and disclose donors the group, while expressing concern that contributors might be harassed.
New York – Democrats Seek to Close Lobbying Loophole on Nominations Exposed by LaSalle Fight
Albany Times Union – Joshua Solomon | Published: 2/27/2023
New York Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to close an apparent lobbying loophole for nominations to statewide positions that require confirmation. The loophole allows for individuals or groups seeking to influence the vote of senators on a nominee without having to report their activities to the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. “The danger in people trying to influence judicial appointments is just as great, if not greater, than for those trying to influence legislation,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. “To somehow allow that influence to be exerted in secrecy makes absolutely no sense.”
New York – Could Public Campaign Finance Unlaunch in New York?
City & State – Rebecca Lewis | Published: 2/28/2023
It has been reported that despite the new statewide public campaign finance system’s official launch in November, legislative leaders in New York may push to postpone payouts for two years even as lawmakers and other candidates have begun to sign up. Good government advocates have touted the program as a way to reduce corruption by reducing the influence of big-dollar donors. Opponents have argued that taxpayer money should not pay for lawmakers’ elections.
North Carolina – Federal Court of Appeals Rules NC’s Ag-Gag Law Is Unconstitutional, Signals a Win for Whistleblowers
NC Policy Watch – Lisa Sorg | Published: 2/24/2023
A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that North Carolina’s “ag-gag law” is unconstitutional and infringes on free speech. The Property Protection Act allows courts to assess civil fines on employees who took videos or photos, or even took handwritten notes, of a business’s non-public areas to document alleged wrongdoing, and then passed that information to anyone besides the employer or law enforcement. The fines were $5,000 per day, plus attorney’s fees.
Ohio – A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Ohio Enacted the Most Restrictive Voter Photo ID Law in America
Ohio Capital Journal – Zurie Pope | Published: 3/1/2023
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 458 in January, enacting what has been called one of the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the country. Public records show how the law moved through the process, with lawmakers often ignoring moderation suggestions proposed by the secretary of state’s office and a law firm that lobbied on the measure. Republican leaders insist the new voting restrictions were necessary, despite no evidence of significant voter fraud.
Ohio – Norfolk Southern Plied Ohio Politicians with Campaign Cash, Extensive Lobbying
WSYX – Darrell Rowland | Published: 2/23/2023
Almost exactly a month before a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spewed hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, the company gave the maximum $10,000 to help bankroll Gov. Mike DeWine’s inaugural festivities. The railway company contributed about $98,000 during the past six years to Ohio statewide and legislative candidates. It also filed more than 200 quarterly reports disclosing the lobbying of state officials or legislators in the same period. Most of the lobbying was on generic transportation issues. Some efforts were devoted to defeating legislation that would have established tougher safety standards for train operations.
Pennsylvania – Shapiro Admin Contends Taking Super Bowl Tickets Didn’t Violate Governor’s Own Gift Ban
MSN – Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso (Spotlight PA) | Published: 2/22/2023
Under a policy instituted in January, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and executive branch employees are not allowed to accept tickets to recreational events such as football games. The ban states these employees cannot accept such a gift from any “person or entity” that “has financial relations with the Commonwealth.” But Team Pennsylvania – a public-private partnership that works to improve the state’s “competitiveness and economic prosperity” – paid for Shapiro and his staff’s flights, lodging, and tickets for the Super Bowl in Arizona this year. The state has given the group over $17.2 million in contracts since 2007.
Pennsylvania – Ex-Philly Councilmember Bobby Henon Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years in Union Bribery Case
MSN – Jeremy Roebuck and Oona Goodin-Smith (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/1/2023
A federal judge sentenced former city council member Bobby Henon to three-and-one-half years in prison, calling his conviction on bribery charges a case that “exposed the dirty underbelly of how Philadelphia politics works.” U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said Henon deserved his prison term for essentially selling his office to labor leader John Dougherty in exchange for a $70,000-a-year union salary.
Pennsylvania – Lobbyist Says She Was Sexually Harassed by Pa. Lawmaker Mike Zabel, Calls on Him to Resign
Spotlight PA – Stephen Caruso | Published: 3/1/2023
Andi Perez a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, says Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Zabel sexually harassed her and called for him to resign. Perez did not name Zabel when she publicly shared her story in January. She said an unnamed lawmaker harassed her while they discussed a bill outside of the Capitol. Spotlight PA spoke to a woman who was with Perez at the time of the incident and corroborated Perez’s story. Spotlight PA also viewed a text message Zabel sent to Perez the day after she said the harassment occurred, in which he confirmed the two met and apologized for his “bad manners at times.”
Pennsylvania – McClinton Voted Pa. Speaker; First Black Woman to Win Post
Yahoo News – Mark Scolforo (Associated Press) | Published: 2/28/2023
State Rep. Joanna McClinton became the first woman to serve as speaker of the Pennsylvania House, ascending to the chamber’s top position on the strength of a fresh one-vote Democratic majority. The leadership reshuffling came nearly two months after Rep. Mark Rozzi became the surprise choice for speaker. Democrats flipped a net of 12 seats in November to retake majority control by the narrowest of margins after more than a decade, but their control did not become effective until their candidates won three special elections in February.
South Carolina – SC House Freedom Caucus Takes Colleagues to Federal Court on Free Speech Grounds
MSN – Joseph Bustos (The State) | Published: 2/28/2023
The South Carolina House Freedom Caucus is taking its colleagues to federal court. The caucus, an ultra-conservative wing of House Republicans, filed a lawsuit against Ethics Committee members over free speech grounds. The group is asking the court to equal the playing field for legislative caucuses, allowing them, most importantly, to solicit donations similar to the two main party caucuses in the lower chamber. State ethics law only allows the Republican, Democratic, Legislative Black Caucus, and Women’s caucuses to raise money, openly advocate for candidates and hire staff.
Tennessee – Gov. Bill Lee Will Sign Drag Bill, Reacts to Yearbook Photo Showing Him Dressed as a Woman
MSN – Josh Keefe (Tennessean) | Published: 2/27/2023
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he intends to sign an antidrug show bill into law when it reaches his desk, the first time he has publicly taken a position on the legislation. Lee also said comparisons between the performances targeted in the bill and an old yearbook picture of him dressed in woman’s clothes were “ridiculous.” In 2019, Lee said he regretted attending “Old South” parties while an undergraduate student at Auburn University after a yearbook photo showed him dressed as a Confederate soldier.
Texas – Two GOP Legislators in Harris County Want to Let the State Replace Local Elections Administrators
Texas Tribune – Natalia Contreras (Votebeat) | Published: 2/27/2023
Bills filed by Republican lawmakers in response to Harris County’s mismanagement of its recent elections could give the Texas secretary of state the authority to step in, suspend county election administrators when a complaint is filed and appoint a replacement administrator. Election administration experts said the legislation was an overreaction to the desire to hold Harris County accountable for years of election mismanagement and would disrupt the state’s ability to help county election offices improve and address systemic problems.
Wyoming – Bouchard Reprimanded by Senate Leadership; Lawmaker Doubles Down on Social Media
Wyoming Tribune Eagle – Jasmine Hall | Published: 3/1/2023
Wyoming Senate leaders issued a formal letter of reprimand against Sen. Anthony Bouchard for his behavior that led to a second ethics complaint in less than a year. The most recent complaint was filed by nurse practitioner Jennifer James, who had testified in the House Appropriations Committee on a bill sponsored by Bouchard. He used an obscenity in a text message to James for her comments on the bill regarding the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
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