News Roundup: Speaker Vos’ Secret Impeachment Panel

A Friday hearing in our lawsuit seeking to prevent a panel convened by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos from meeting in private has only heightened concerns about government secrecy.

Earlier this week, we sued the secret panel — which Vos set up to “review and advise” on the potential impeachment of recently elected state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz — for violating Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.

American Oversight had sought a temporary restraining order to prevent Vos’ panel from meeting in violation of the law. Stating his belief that we had established a “likelihood of success on the merits,” Judge Frank Remington allowed the Dane County District Attorney (with whom we had also filed a complaint) more time to investigate before further court action, setting a hearing date for Oct. 19.

  • Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law requires that governmental bodies provide advance notice of every meeting, and that they conduct meetings in open session unless specific exemptions apply. 
  • This includes advisory groups like the one Vos has set up — there is no need for a formal rule or order creating the panel.
  • It’s bad enough to threaten to remove an elected justice for political gain, but it’s an additional violation of the public trust to be making plans in secret. The Open Meetings Law exists for a reason: The people have a right to know what their government is doing in their name.
  • With Vos having stated that he expects the panel to complete its work within weeks, time is of the essence. Read our full statement here.

New Report on Election Deniers Overseeing the Vote
A recent report by States United found that 23 election deniers currently serve in offices that oversee elections — including as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state — in 17 states.

  • The report lays out how election deniers have sought to weaken fair and free elections, including by spreading misinformation about the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and pushing for the use of government resources to investigate voter fraud, a nearly non-existent issue.
  • Read more here about our investigation into states’ withdrawals from ERIC.

Here are some recent headlines related to election denial and election administration:

  • Ohio Sec. of State LaRose has flagged 641 cases of voter fraud. Less than 3% resulted in charges (Ohio Capital Journal)
  • Georgia Republicans’ election security ideas come with a cost (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Georgia partners with three states that left ERIC voter accuracy group (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • The right’s dangerous and unreliable alternative to ERIC (Democracy Docket)
  • In North Carolina, Republicans seek more control over elections (New York Times)
  • Virginia voter removals raise concerns among rights groups (Virginia Public Media)
  • In some states, more than half of the local election officials have left since 2020 (NPR)
  • Nevada’s election worker turnover second highest among Western states, report finds (Nevada Independent)

On the Records

Language Changes in DeSantis Administration Migrant Transportation Contracts
Records obtained by American Oversight and reported on this week by the Tallahassee Democrat offer new details about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial and costly program of transporting migrants to liberal states to score political points.

  • The documents include contract amendments that require that companies conducting the transport not promise migrants jobs, shelter, or food upon their arrival — things that migrants told the media they were promised before previous flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Sacramento. The language had not been included in previous versions of the contracts released to the public. 
  • The amendments also state that contractors must ensure migrants have been processed and released by the U.S. federal government. The Democrat interviewed an immigration expert who said this is “likely to avoid legal peril or accusations of improper behavior while still allowing DeSantis to score political points with conservative pundits and voters.”
  • Beyond the question of misleading migrants in order to lure them onto flights, the records also show that the program continues to be expensive. Proposals for work on “stage 1” of the migrant transportation program included proposed hourly rates of $100 and $150 and lump sums of up to $487,000.

Florida’s Partisan Congressional Map
In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pushed through a new congressional map that significantly reduced the voting power of the state’s Black residents. A federal trial that could upend this map began Tuesday. 

  • Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ acting chief of staff, testified in the trial. Records we obtained include an invitation, sent to Kelly, for a January 2021 “Florida Redistricting Kick-off Call” with out-of-state operatives who’d been working with other states to draw maps favorable to conservatives. 
  • This document is just one of the many emails, calendar invites, and other records we obtained showing how DeSantis’ office worked with national political operatives to develop the new congressional map.

Other Stories We’re Following

In the States
  • Fired deputy attorney general for Idaho sues AG’s office, alleging retaliation (Idaho Capital Sun)
  • Supreme Court declines to revisit Alabama voting map dispute (New York Times)
  • Right-wing ‘constitutional sheriffs’ movement comes to Minnesota (Minnesota Reformer)
  • A unique Texas legal rule lets the attorney general’s office supersede some judges’ orders (Texas Tribune)
  • One-third of Texas foster care caseworkers left their jobs last year as the agency continued putting kids in hotels (Texas Tribune)
  • Senate elections committee pointedly excludes state elections commission from hearing (Wisconsin Examiner)
  • Wisconsin Senate Chief Clerk resigns after investigation into ‘credible’ complaint (Wisconsin State Journal)
  • DeSantis’ office pledged to investigate bid-rigging case. It didn’t get far. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • NC prison staffer sounds alarm on overcrowding, neglect of basic prisoner health and safety (News from the States)
National News
  • Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly attended Koch network donor events (Washington Post)
  • Anti-vaxxers are now a modern political force (Politico)
LGBTQ Rights
  • As Missouri providers halt transgender care for minors, some feel duped by legislative deal (Missouri Independent)
  • Missouri says clinic that challenged transgender treatment restrictions didn’t provide proper care (Associated Press)
  • Parents who want Youngkin’s transgender policies enacted sue Virginia Beach school board (NBC News)
  • Some providers are dropping gender-affirming care for kids even in cases where it’s legal (Associated Press)
  • Newsom vetoes bill on parental support of child’s gender identity in custody cases (New York Times)
  • Montana judge blocks enforcement of law to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors (Associated Press)
  • Inside the tactics that won Christian vendors the right to reject gay weddings (Washington Post)
  • Republican bill bans gender-transition treatment for minors (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
  • Federal appeals court upholds Kentucky ban on gender-affirming care for trans kids (Louisville Courier Journal)
  • Transgender youth in Tennessee will not be able to access gender-affirming care, federal court rules (WPLN Nashville)
  • Nebraska gender care restrictions take effect Sunday with little guidance, no regulations (News from the States)
Abortion and Reproductive Rights
  • Wisconsin anti-abortion groups call on DAs in Dane, Milwaukee counties to prosecute abortion doctors (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
  • Ohio supreme court battle over six-week abortion ban begins (Guardian)
  • Missouri judge rejects secretary of state’s ‘problematic’ summary of abortion initiative petitions (Missouri Independent)
  • Nebraska woman sentenced to 2 years in prison for giving pregnant daughter abortion pills (NBC News)
  • A Texas county that borders New Mexico is the latest to consider an abortion travel ban (Texas Tribune)
  • Texas AG Ken Paxton sues Yelp over labeling of crisis pregnancy centers (Washington Post)
  • Texas lawyer asks abortion funds for details of every procedure since 2021 (Guardian)
  • Appeals court lifts partial block on Idaho abortion ban (Politico)
Threats to Education
  • ‘This is not a Trumpy, conservative education’: Florida’s controversial new SAT alternative (Guardian)
  • In Virginia, a battle over history standards ends in compromise (Hechinger Report)
  • Florida school district orders removal of all books with gay characters before slightly backing off (NBC News)
  • How a Moms for Liberty-aligned attack on library content is upending politics in Philly burbs (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Government Transparency and Public Records Law
  • Proposed bill would block ‘vexatious’ citizens from accessing public records (Iowa Capital Dispatch)
  • Media network paid by GOP groups is behind deluge of election records requests (Votebeat)
  • Hanover parent sues Virginia School Boards Association over FOIA (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
  • Texas’ open records law is 50 years old — and routinely flouted (Texas Tribune)
  • Migrants’ DNA is fueling a massive expansion of the FBI’s genetic database (Mother Jones)
  • Trump administration officials ordered to testify on family separations (Washington Post)
  • Biden officials kept immigration jails despite internal cost concerns (Reuters)
Trump Accountability
  • New York judge finds Donald Trump liable for fraud (CNN)
  • As Trump prosecutions move forward, threats and concerns increase (New York Times)
  • Donald Trump and his adult children are listed as potential witnesses in NY fraud case (CNN)
  • Trump says Mar-a-Lago is worth $1.8 billion. Not long ago, his own company thought that was over $1.7 billion too high. (CBS News)
Jan. 6 Investigations
  • FBI report predicted 2020 election extremism two months before Jan. 6 (Axios)
  • Trump lawyers assail gag order request in election case (New York Times)
  • Donald Trump tells judge he will not try to move his Georgia election subversion case to federal court (CNN)
  • Chutkan rejects Trump request to step aside as judge in his DC trial (Washington Post)