News You Can Use Digest - October 9, 2020 - State and Federal Communications

October 9, 2020  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 9, 2020


Biden Transition Elevates Former Facebook Exec as Ethics Arbiter
Politico – Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer | Published: 10/1/2020

Joe Biden’s transition team named Jessica Hertz, until recently a Facebook executive focused on government regulations, as its general counsel and charged her with navigating conflicts-of-interest and other ethical issues for the Biden administration-in-waiting, a move that drew immediate fire from the left. Hertz will oversee a team responsible for “enforcement, oversight, and compliance” of the ethics plan that Biden’s team released. In it, they promise to reestablish many of the rules President Obama instituted to limit the role of former lobbyists in the 2008 transition. Biden’s rules bar those who have worked as registered lobbyists or foreign agents in the past year from working on the transition unless Hertz signs off.

Facebook Imposes Major New Restrictions on QAnon, Stepping Up Enforcement Against the Conspiracy Theory
MSN – Craig Timberg and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 10/6/2020

Facebook imposed sweeping new sanctions on the QAnon conspiracy theory, expanding its policy to remove all affiliated groups and pages, and all accounts on the Facebook subsidiary Instagram, even if they do not violate other policies by inciting violence or trafficking in hate speech. The move expands an enforcement action in August that targeted more than 3,000 pages and groups but stopped short of a full ban. But the content morphed almost instantaneously, prompting the more sweeping action. This action comes after more than two years of mounting evidence that the QAnon conspiracy is rife with violent, hateful themes that regularly violated policies across Silicon Valley and also inspired numerous real-world crimes.

In a New Ruling, Judge Says Census Count Must Continue Through October
MSN – Tara Bahrampour (Washington Post) | Published: 10/2/2020

A federal judge ordered that the 2020 Census continue until October 31, blocking for now the government’s efforts to complete the survey in time to deliver apportionment data to the president by the end of the year. The ruling follows a tense week in which the government appeared to try to circumvent a preliminary injunction against ending the count early. The National Urban League and a group of counties, cities, and others said a truncated schedule would irreparably harm communities that might be undercounted.

Justice Dept. Acknowledges FBI Notes Given to Flynn Defense Contain Altered Dates
Washington Post – Spencer Hsu and Matt Zapotosky | Published: 10/7/2020

The Justice Department said it inadvertently altered dates on copies of notes from two former senior FBI officials that were turned over to Michael Flynn’s defense team and filed to the court as potentially exculpatory evidence. The dates were added to notes of former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI agent Peter Strzok and should have been removed before the documents were scanned by agency headquarters, the Justice Department told a judge weighing its request to dismiss the former Trump national security adviser’s prosecution. McCabe and Strzok were key figures investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.

Public Records Requests Fall Victim to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Washington Post – Nate Jones | Published: 10/1/2020

With most government employees still working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, the disclosure of public records by many federal agencies and local government offices nationwide has worsened or even ground to a halt. When the pandemic was declared in early March, many employees at local, state, and federal agencies abandoned their offices and began working remotely. Employees tasked with answering open-records requests have been forced to rely on telework computer systems that are often incompatible with the software used to process records requests.

Several Lawmakers Disclose Opaque Financial Records
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 10/1/2020

Federal law requires members of Congress to publicly file annual financial disclosure statements and periodically report certain stock transactions exceeding $1,000. Such mandates provide the public with a view of lawmakers’ financial interests and possible conflicts-of-interest, but members are not required to file in a uniform manner. That has left some reports opaque and partially illegible. There is a stark contrast in clarity between financial disclosure reports filed in a standardized, electronic format and those that are not.

Sonny Perdue Fuels Ethics Scrutiny as Trump’s Rural Envoy
Politico – Ryan McCrimmon | Published: 10/5/2020

On top of his overt appeal to reelect President Trump, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has kept many farmers in Trump’s corner by doling out unprecedented sums of taxpayer aid to offset the industry’s losses after years of trade turmoil and painful biofuel policies. Democrats have questioned the practice but have made almost no effort to attach any strings to the payments. Now, Perdue is facing a fresh round of criticism for requiring federal contractors to stuff promotional letters from Trump into millions of Agriculture Department food boxes distributed to needy families, over the objections of lawmakers and many food banks. The department says these activities are not political and rejects the allegation the signed letters are a violation of the Hatch Act.

Trump Returns to Oval Office as Aides Refuse to Say When He Last Tested Negative for the Coronavirus
Washington Post – Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker | Published: 10/7/2020

The White House again refused to say when President Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus, leaving open the possibility he potentially exposed dozens of people to the deadly virus before the announcement of his positive test on October 2. Trump attended several events, including a presidential debate against Joe Biden, a campaign rally, and an in-person fundraiser, where he could have potentially exposed people to the coronavirus if he was infectious at that time. Two officials familiar with the situation said Trump has not been tested daily in recent months. Only rarely has Trump been tested on a machine other than the one produced by Abbott Laboratories, which provides rapid results, but are not always accurate.

Trump’s Call for Poll-Watching Volunteers Sparks Fear of Chaos and Violence on Election Day
MSN – Amy Gardner, Joshua Partlow, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 9/30/2020

President Trump’s debate-stage call for volunteers to stand watch at voting locations has prompted an enthusiastic response from known neo-Nazis and right-wing activists, leading many state election and law enforcement officials to prepare for voter intimidation, arrests, and even violence on Election Day. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee for months have promised to recruit as many as 50,000 poll watchers to monitor voting locations on Election Day. The campaign’s “Army for Trump” website has contributed to that effort, urging supporters to join the “army of supporters fighting to re-elect him in 2020.”

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska An Initiative Proposes to Overhaul Alaska’s Elections. But Not Everyone Thinks They’re Broken.
Anchorage Daily News – Nat Herz (Alaska Public Media) | Published: 9/29/2020

Political activists proposed a citizen’s initiative to change Alaska’s entire election system. Ballot Measure 2 would mandate more transparency about who is funding the super PAC-like independent spending groups that operate in Alaska’s elections. But its two most ambitious provisions target the election process itself: the initiative would do away with Alaska’s partisan primary altogether, replacing it with a single ballot open to all voters, and the top four candidates would advance to the general election. Then, in the general election, Alaskans would choose winners using a new system called ranked choice voting. They have never been combined for statewide elections in the way the Alaska initiative proposes, leaving a measure of uncertainty about how it could transform the state’s politics and government.

California Was City of Industry Tricked into Hiring a Negotiator with a Major Conflict of Interest on Failed $20 Million Solar Project?
San Gabriel Valley News – Jason Henry | Published: 9/29/2020

An attorney who negotiated the terms of a $20 million solar project on behalf of the city of Industry, California, did not disclose to the city the proposed developer owed him $1.5 million from a prior business relationship. Industry now alleges the developer, William Barkett, orchestrated the hiring of attorney Anthony Bouza to limit oversight on the project. The city sued Barkett in 2019, alleging he siphoned off the $20 million and could not provide evidence that work occurred.

Delaware Fittingly, Supreme Court Term Starts with Test of Political Affiliations for Judges
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 10/5/2020

Delaware requires its major courts be roughly balanced, so that no more than a bare majority of a court is made up of members of one political party. It requires the minority be made up of the other political party. The result, Stanford law professor Michael McConnell told the U.S. Supreme Court, is “Delaware’s courts are widely regarded as the least partisan and most professional in the nation.” Attorney David Finger said the plan denies the chance for his client, lawyer James Adams, to serve on the courts because he is neither a Democrat nor Republican but a political independent, and that violates his First Amendment rights of political association. It seemed a fitting beginning for the court’s new term, as the Senate is torn along partisan lines about whether to confirm just before the election Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Florida In Florida, the Gutting of a Landmark Law Leaves Few Felons Likely to Vote
ProPublica – Lawrence Mower and Langston Taylor (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 10/7/2020

What was expected to be the nation’s largest voter re-enfranchisement in more than 50 years resulted in less than a quarter of an estimated 1.4 million felons in Florida signing up to vote. Officials have not removed any felons from the rolls for owing fines or fees, and they are unlikely to do so before Election Day, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said. It is unclear whether those whom the state fails to prune are entitled to vote or may face prosecution if they do. Amid the confusion, the one certainty is Florida’s governor and Legislature have tamped down the felon vote, according to an analysis of state records. In a presidential election marred by voter suppression tactics, the weakening of Florida’s Amendment 4 may constitute the biggest single instance of voter disenfranchisement.

Florida Palm Bay Developer Brian West Arrested on Bribery Charges Involving Palm Bay City Council
Florida Today – Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Jim Waymer, and Dave Berman | Published: 10/2/2020

Developer Brian West was arrested on felony charges of bribery over an alleged scheme to buy votes on the Palm Bay City Council to rezone land for a project. The alleged bribery appears to have been directed at Councilperson Brian Anderson, who appears to have acted as the confidential informant with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The circumstances that led to West’s arrest revolved around allegations of an attempted deal brokered by local hotelier Puneet Kapur to buy votes to approve the rezoning of a subdivision to commercial use. That is land that one of West’s companies was trying to develop.

Illinois Berrios Son-in-Law Indicted in Bribery Scheme Involving Ex-State Rep. Luis Arroyo
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner | Published: 10/2/2020

The son-in-law of onetime Cook County Democratic boss Joseph Berrios was indicted for his alleged role in a bribery scheme that brought down former Illinois Rep. Luis Arroyo and exposed a shadowy lobbying effort to expand sweepstakes gaming machines. James Weiss was charged with bribery, wire fraud, mail fraud, and lying to the FBI. The indictment also added new wire and mail fraud charges against Arroyo, who was originally charged with one count of federal program bribery and had been on track to plead guilty. According to the charges, Arroyo agreed to pay a state senator $2,500 a month in kickbacks in exchange for the senator’s support on legislation involving video gambling sweepstakes games that would benefit Weiss, who was in the sweepstakes business and was one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients.

Illinois Chicago Aldermen to Consider Rolling Back Part of City’s Elected Official Lobbying Ban
MSN – John Byrne (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 9/30/2020

Chicago aldermen now appear likely to consider a proposal introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot that would roll back part of the tougher rules they passed to prevent elected officials from lobbying City Hall. Ald. Jason Ervin used a parliamentary rule to threaten an up-or-down city council floor vote on Lightfoot’s ordinance that would again let elected officials from outside Chicago lobby aldermen, the mayor’s office, and other city government departments. Ervin’s move prompted Ethics Committee Chairperson Michele Smith to instead agree to hold a hearing on the proposal in her committee.

Maryland Can Public Campaign Financing Improve Government? Baltimore County Executive, Activists Start Campaign to Convince Voters.
Baltimore Sun – Alison Knezevich | Published: 10/6/2020

Saying it is time to reduce the influence of big money on Baltimore County politics, activists kicked off an effort to convince voters to approve public financing for local campaigns. Last year, a bill to put public campaign financing on the ballot was the Democratic county executive’s first major legislative initiative. It is now up to voters whether to approve the charter amendment in November. If they do, the county will create a “citizen’s election fund” that candidates for the Baltimore County Council and county executive would have the option to use starting in 2026. The details of the program, including the specific funding source, would be worked out later if voters approve the amendment.

Michigan F.B.I. Says a Michigan Militia Plotted to Kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
New York Times – Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Shaila Dewan, and Kathleen Gray | Published: 10/8/2020

The FBI revealed it thwarted a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, unsealing charges against six people who the agency said contemplated a violent overthrow of the government. The FBI said it had learned so much about the plot by intercepting encrypted messages and because it had undercover agents and confidential informants working with the group. Whitmer has been the subject of attack from right-wing protesters for measures she imposed to control the coronavirus. Thousands of people gathered in Lansing to protest executive orders she issued shutting down most of the state to help stop the spread of the virus. In April, President Trump openly encouraged such protests, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”

Michigan Michigan AG Dana Nessel Files Charges Against GOP Operatives Over Robocalls
Detroit News – Craig Mauger | Published: 10/1/2020

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed felony charges against two well-known out-of-state Republican operatives for allegedly orchestrating robocalls aimed at suppressing the vote in the Detroit area. Nessel charged Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl with election law and conspiracy crimes that would bring up to 24 years in prison for each of them if convicted. The charges stem from a false robocall that discouraged mail-in voting by telling people their personal information will be part of a public database that will then be used by police if they vote by mail.

Missouri Amid Accusations of Insider Politics, Parson Campaign Rents Space from Lobbyists
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 10/7/2020

At the same time Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s campaign is criticizing his opponent’s husband for having served as a lobbyist, the governor’s team is sharing office space with lobbyists. The campaign is renting space in the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s headquarters in Jefferson City, as well as using space in a suite of offices owned by lobbyist Brent Hemphill, who represents Ameren, AT&T, and a number of casinos. Parson campaign manager Steele Shippy said Hemphill contributed the space in his building as an in-kind donation. The offices used by the campaign are on a different floor from Hemphill’s lobbying organization, Shippy said.

Missouri St. Louis Husband and Wife Who Pointed Guns at Protesters Indicted on Firearms Charges
NBC News – Tim Stelloh | Published: 10/7/2020

The St. Louis husband and wife who were captured on video brandishing guns at protesters over the summer were indicted on firearm and evidence tampering charges. The indictment comes nearly four months after Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who have been embraced by conservatives and appeared at the Republican National Convention, were filmed and photographed outside their affluent home pointing a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun at the demonstrators.

Montana Record Penalties Levied in Dark Money Lawsuit
Montana Free Press – John Adams | Published: 10/2/2020

A judge entered a $1.76 million judgement against two now-defunct corporations that were found to have made illegal contributions to Republican candidates in Montana. The judgment is likely the final chapter in a case that spanned more than a decade, led to the largest-ever fine against a sitting politician in Montana, and was featured in the documentary film “Dark Money.” Western Tradition Partnership and Direct Mail and Communications will pay $881,955 in penalties for violating laws prohibiting corporations from giving directly to campaigns. They will pay an additional $881,955 fine for failing to report the illegal contributions. The two groups were fined $500 each for not maintaining and producing records of their campaign activities.

New Jersey NJ Investigating Bergen Health Broker Records in Criminal Probe of Political Donations
Bergen Record – Terence McDonald | Published: 9/29/2020

New Jersey’s attorney general launched an investigation into public health brokerage contracts and potential “pay-to-play” violations in Bergen County. The investigation has resulted in at least one subpoena to the county seeking contracts and related documents to be reviewed by a grand jury. The subpoena demands the county hand over. Since 2016, the county’s health broker has been Acrisure. In Bergen County, contributions to all county-level elected officials and both political parties must be disclosed. The county’s pay-to-play law also restricts donations from a vendor’s subsidiaries. The insurance industry is a lucrative one, attracting power brokers who build close relationships with elected officials and reward them with a steady stream of donations.

New Mexico New Mexico State Ethics Commission Urged to Reform Candidate Finance Reports
Santa Fe New Mexican – Robert Knott | Published: 10/2/2020

A watchdog group says New Mexico’s law on financial disclosure reporting is lax and confusing and leads to a lack of transparency that makes it difficult to accurately track the financial activities of candidates. New Mexico Ethics Watch Executive Director Kathleen Sabo said financial disclosure forms for 12 state Senate candidates and 24 candidates for the House are missing or cannot be viewed on the secretary of state’s website. Guidelines for filling out those forms are so vague, she said, they allow legislators to avoid disclosing how much they earn and with whom they do business.

New York Andrew Cuomo Holds Webinar with Firm That Promised His Book to Employees
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – Jon Campbell | Published: 10/2/2020

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom hosted a closed-to-the-public webinar with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sending an email invitation to employees that prominently featured the cover of “American Crisis,” Cuomo’s upcoming account of leading the state during the coronavirus pandemic. Each person who registered for the webinar is due to receive a copy of the book, which carries a hardcover list price of $30. Crown Publishing Group confirmed it is not providing copies to Skadden free of charge. Skadden is a registered lobbyist in New York, though the firm lists only one lobbying client in the state: The Shed, a performing and visual arts center. Most of the lobbying work appears centered on New York City, not the state.

New York Appeals Court Rejects Trump Effort to Shield Financial Records
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 10/7/2020

A federal appeals court rejected President Trump’s efforts to keep his financial records from a Manhattan prosecutor, putting the president on track for a second date at the U.S. Supreme Court in his campaign to keep those documents private. A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Trump’s legal team that the subpoena issued to Trump’s accounting firm at the request of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was too broad and the subpoena amounted to retaliation for the refusal of Trump’s businesses to cooperate with Vance’s office.

New York NYC Council Expels Andy King Over Latest Harassment, Ethics Violations
MSN – Stephen Rex Brown and Shant Shahrigian (New York Daily News) | Published: 10/5/2020

The New York City Council expelled Andy King over charges he harassed and discriminated against a female employee, took a kickback from another staffer, and failed to pay a fine for previous misconduct. The vote to expel King resulted from the third investigation into his conduct in less than three years. In the latest case, the council’s Ethics Committee found he forced a female staffer to go on unpaid leave after she complained of menstrual bleeding. King gave a different employee a $9,500 one-time payment with council funds and demanded a $2,000 kickback in return. The panel found King refused to accept part of the punishment he received last year for separate violations.

New York Rochester, New York, Mayor Indicted on 2 Felony Campaign Finance Charges
USA Today – Gary Craig and Tony Sharp (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle) | Published: 10/2/2020

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was indicted on two felony campaign finance charges. The first charge is for first-degree scheme to defraud; the second is an election law offense for illegally coordinating activities and expenditures. The grand jury indictment is connected to Warren’s 2017 mayoral re-election campaign. Warren has refuted any wrongdoing in the matter. If convicted, Warren would be removed from office under state law. While Warren would be unlikely to be incarcerated, her pension could be forfeited if the matter is determined to be a crime related to public office, and she also could lose her law license.

North Carolina Democrat’s Personal Scandal Roils N. Carolina Senate Race
Associated Press News – Brian Slodysko and Gary Robertson | Published: 10/7/2020

A race in North Carolina critical to control of the U.S. Senate has been thrown into turmoil over allegations of personal misconduct by Democrat Cal Cunningham, a married man who had an extramarital relationship this summer with a consultant. Previously undisclosed text messages and interviews show the relationship extended beyond suggestive texts, as was previously reported, to an intimate encounter as recent as July. Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate, and the contest between Cunningham and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis has been among the most watched in the country, with polls showing a tight race and both parties investing heavily in the outcome.

Ohio Federal Judge Thinks LaRose Has Permitted Off-Site Ballot Collection Sites in Ohio, Dismisses Drop Box Lawsuit. But Is He Right?
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Andrew Tobias | Published: 10/6/2020

A federal judge determined Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has permitted county boards of elections to offer off-site ballot collection sites and dismissed a lawsuit from voting-rights activists seeking an expansion of ballot drop boxes. But parties in the case, elections officials, and observers said they are confused by U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster’s order and what it will mean for state elections. Officials in LaRose’s office have said they have not actually said that extra ballot drop boxes are allowed, and local elections officials say they are waiting on guidance. Polster declined to clarify his ruling, while LaRose’s office issued a statement that did not clearly address what their next step is.

Ohio FirstEnergy, Energy Harbor Can Still Donate to Legislative Candidates During HB6 Repeal Debate, Judge Rules
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Jeremy Pelzer | Published: 10/2/2020

A judge ruled FirstEnergy Corp. and the owner of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants can still make political donations to state lawmakers as the Legislature considers whether to repeal a controversial law benefiting the companies. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Chris Brown reluctantly denied an injunction request by Attorney General Dave Yost to restrict FirstEnergy, Energy Harbor, ex-House Speaker Larry Householder, and others involved in the House Bill 6 scandal from donating to any state legislative candidate through the end of the year, nor lobby any legislator about repealing or changing the legislation.

Oregon After Wheeler’s $150,000 Loan, Iannarone Campaign Takes City Auditor to Court to Enforce Self-Funding Limits
OPB – Rebecca Ellis | Published: 10/6/2020

Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone’s campaign asked a court to make the city auditor enforce a strict cap on the money that candidates can lend themselves to fund their election efforts. The request comes after Mayor Ted Wheeler loaned his campaign $150,000. Voters approved strict campaign finance limits in 2018, including a $5,000 cap on how much candidates can loan themselves. After a series of court challenges, the city auditor announced in May she would begin enforcing most of the campaign finance changes, except for the limits on self-funding. The city has taken the position that the self-funding portion of the charter conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and would not hold up in court.

Oregon Election 2020: Oregon’s Measure 107 would allow laws to limit campaign contributions
Salem Statesman Journal – Capi Lynn | Published: 10/6/2020

Measure 107 on the November ballot would amend the Oregon Constitution, allowing not just the state but local governments to enact laws that limit campaign contributions and expenditures and require their disclosure. The measure also would require campaign advertisements to identify who paid for them. Oregon is one of five states with no limits on political campaign donations and ranks first in per-capita corporate political donations. State lawmakers approved sending Measure 107 to voters. If it passes, it will be up to them to come to a consensus on what limits and disclosure look like.

Pennsylvania Chester County District Judge Siphoned $4K From His Campaign Fund to Feed a Gambling Habit, AG Says
Philadelphia Inquirer – Vinny Vella | Published: 10/7/2020

Chester County Magisterial District Judge Michael Cabry III diverted nearly $4,000 in campaign donations for personal expenses, using the funds to prop up his “six-figure gambling habit,” at casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, state prosecutors said. In the run-up to the 2017 election, Cabry created Citizens for Cabry, a PAC overseen by his niece, the grand jury said. Its reports reflected personal reimbursements to Cabry through debit cards linked to the PAC’s bank account. Those reimbursements included ATM withdrawals at Delaware Park Casino, Dover Downs Casino, and Bally’s Resort and Casino, as well as stays at hotels near those casinos, the grand jury said.

Pennsylvania Courtright: ‘I should have known better.’
Citizen’s Voice – Joseph Kohut | Published: 10/2/2020

The former mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison on charges he shook down businesses for bribes and campaign contributions. Bill Courtright resigned last year as mayor of the city of 78,000 and pleaded guilty to bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. Prosecutors say Courtright took bribes from a company that had a contract with the city to collect delinquent taxes and garbage fees.

Pennsylvania Judge Dismisses Suit by Top Pa. Senator’s Campaign Against Spotlight PA Journalist, Others
Philadelphia Inquirer – Mike Wereschagin (The Caucus) | Published: 10/7/2020

A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati’s campaign against a Spotlight PA reporter and The Caucus and one of its journalists. Scarnati’s campaign wanted The Caucus, and reporters Brad Bumsted, and Angela Couloumbis to pay its accounting firm $5,070 for producing and copying public records that documented questionable campaign spending by Scarati. It also wanted the trio to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs. But Magisterial District Court Judge Jacqueline Mizerock ruled Scarnati’s campaign, not the journalists, should be on the hook for the costs the accounting firm incurred.

Rhode Island Speaker Mattiello Isn’t the One on Trial for Money Laundering Today. But His Reputation Could Be.
Boston Globe – Edward Fitzpatrick | Published: 10/4/2020

Little-known Democratic political operative Jeffrey Britt is on trial for money laundering and making an illegal campaign contribution, but much of the focus will be on someone who is not on trial: House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Britt’s lawyer says Leo Skenyon, Mattiello’s chief of staff, told Britt to persuade a defeated Republican candidate to endorse Mattiello instead of the candidate from her own party who was seeking to unseat the speaker in 2016. Britt has pleaded not guilty to the charge he illegally funneled money to her to pay for a mailer that carried her endorsement. If Skenyon knew what he was doing, Britt maintains, then so did the Mattiello campaign. Of the three men, only Britt is charged. But Britt’s attorney is determined to put Mattiello on trial.

South Carolina High Court Reinstates S. Carolina Ballot Witness Requirement
Associated Press News – Jessica Gresko | Published: 10/6/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a requirement that South Carolina residents voting by mail in November’s election get a witness to sign their ballots. Democrats had sought to have the requirement put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Republicans had defended it as deterring fraud. While the high court reinstated the requirement as a lawsuit over it proceeds, voters have already started returning ballots. More than 200,000 absentee ballots have been mailed and 18,000 returned, according to the state’s election commission. The court said any ballots cast before the court’s action on October 5 “and received within two days of this order may not be rejected for failing to comply with the witness requirement.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Limits Counties to One Absentee Ballot Drop-Off Location, Bolstering GOP Efforts to Restrict Voting
Texas Tribune – Emma Platoff | Published: 10/1/2020

Gov. Greg Abbott threw the weight of his office behind Republican efforts to limit options for Texas voters who want to hand-deliver their completed absentee ballots for the November election, a rebuke to some large, Democratic counties that have set up multiple drop-off locations in what they call an effort to maximize voter convenience. The governor issued a proclamation directing counties to designate just one location for ballot drop-offs and allowing political parties to install poll watchers to observe the process. With the U.S. Postal Service warning of potential delays, many Texans are eager to deliver their completed absentee ballots in person.

Texas Texas Supreme Court Rules Harris County Cannot Mail Out Ballot Applications to All Registered Voters
CNN – Ashley Killough and Veronica Stracqualursi | Published: 10/7/2020

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Harris County, one of the largest in the country, cannot mail out applications for absentee ballots to all of its 2.4 million registered voters. The ruling is the latest blow for Democrats and voting rights groups who have pushed for Texas to expand vote-by-mail access amid the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans have blocked their efforts in favor of stricter measures that they argue ensure the integrity of the electoral process. The  decision blocks Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins from sending out applications for mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the county even if they may be ineligible for absentee voting, including in Houston, the state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold.

Washington DC Mayor Bowser Has $219,000 in Her Fund for Needy Residents. During the Pandemic, She Has Given $0.
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 10/5/2020

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and city council Chairperson Phil Mendelson have not made a single donation this year from the special charitable funds they control, even as the coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of city residents jobless and businesses scrambling to stay afloat. Bowser has $219,000 in her constituent services fund, while Mendelson has nearly $136,000, mostly from leftover campaign money. Six other council members have accumulated a total of $39,000 but spent only $7,000 since the virus arrived in the region in March. Watchdogs, who have long criticized the constituent service program because it allows individuals and special-interest groups to give money to politicians outside of campaign season, say there is no shortage of organizations and residents in need of financial assistance, and elected officials should be more proactive.

West Virginia WV State Ed Official Urged SAT Seller to Hire Former GOP Chairman to ‘Neutralize’ ACT Lobbyist
Charleston Gazette-Mail – Ryan Quinn | Published: 10/2/2020

West Virginia’s assistant schools superintendent for testing successfully urged the seller of the SAT test to hire the state Republican Party’s former chairperson as a lobbyist. Assistant Superintendent Jan Barth said Conrad Lucas would, as she put it in an email, “neutralize” a lobbyist for the competing ACT test. This means Barth, who oversees statewide learning standards, in addition to standardized testing, recommended the hiring of a legislative representative for an organization, the College Board, that is paid roughly $1 million annually by Barth’s agency. The College Board might seek to extend that contract in the future.

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