News You Can Use Digest – April 14, 2017

campaign finance, elections, ethics, lobbying, News You Can Use
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Federal:

Can Democrats Cuss Their Way Back to the White House?
McClatchy DC – Alex Roarty | Published: 4/11/2017

After voters rewarded Donald Trump despite – or perhaps because of – his plain, often expletive-prone rhetoric, Democrats are suddenly quite eager to adopt the language of America’s president. From the party’s new chairperson to a senator many believe will run for the White House in 2020, Democrats are letting loose four-letter words in public speeches and interviews, causing a small stir, at least in political circles, where swearing in public is usually off limits.

FBI Obtained FISA Warrant to Monitor Trump Adviser Carter Page
Washington Post – Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett, and Adam Entous | Published: 4/11/2017

The FBI obtained a warrant to secretly surveil former Donald Trump aide Carter Page last summer under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FBI and Justice Department demonstrated probable cause that Page is acting on behalf of a foreign state to be granted the warrant. This is the clearest evidence so far the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of a probe into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others.

Foreign Influence in the U.S. Cloaked in Unnecessary Obscurity, Watchdog Groups Say
Roll Call – Stephanie Akin | Published: 4/12/2017

The U.S. has required American citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice since 1938. Registrants are supposed to periodically update the government about their activities, including the materials they have distributed, meetings they have attended, and the payments they have received. The result is a large volume of paperwork that, if properly collected and maintained, could provide a window into the attempts of foreign governments to influence American lawmakers. But the technology the government uses to catalogue and store the data is so outdated that it is next to impossible to quickly find the answers to many basic questions, according to nonprofit groups familiar with the database.

Trump’s Trademark Continues Its March Across the Globe, Raising Eyebrows
New York Times – Sharon LaFraniere and Danny Hakim | Published: 4/11/2017

For most of last year, Donald Trump’s application to register trademarks for his brand of home accessories languished in a government office in Lima, Peru. But since he was elected in November, the pace has picked up. Peruvian officials say they are treating Trump’s trademark applications like anyone else’s and are acting on them now simply because his business representatives have answered outstanding questions. But to a team of constitutional lawyers, the pending Peruvian petitions are emblematic of the legal and moral perils in Trump’s continued ownership of his business empire. In a federal lawsuit that has set up a high-stakes legal battle with the administration, they argue the Constitution prohibits the president from accepting any economic benefit, including trademark approvals, from foreign governments.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Alabama Governor Resigns, Pleads Guilty to Charges Tied to Allegations He Tried to Cover Up Affair with a Top Aide
Washington Post – Amber Phillips | Published: 4/10/2017

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned rather than face impeachment and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor campaign violations that arose during an investigation of his alleged affair with a top aide. The plea agreement specified he must surrender campaign funds totaling nearly $37,000 and perform 100 hours of community service as a physician. Bentley also cannot seek public office again. Bentley was first engulfed in scandal last year after recordings surfaced of him making sexually charged comments to Rebekah Mason. A House Judiciary Committee report said Bentley encouraged an “atmosphere of intimidation” to keep the story under wraps and directed law enforcement officers to track down and seize the recordings.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts Judge Upholds Ban on Corporate Contributions to Politicians
MassLive.com – Shira Schoenberg | Published: 4/6/2017

A Massachusetts law banning corporations from making political donations survived a legal challenge on when a judge ruled against two local business owners seeking to overturn the restriction. Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson found the law does not unconstitutionally discriminate against a business’s right to free speech or equal protection. He also ruled the Office of Campaign and Political Finance successfully showed the law treating unions and corporations differently “serves the anti-corruption interest” used by the state as justification for the law.

Mississippi – Bryant Signs Campaign Finance Reform into Law
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Geoff Pender | Published: 4/11/2017

Legislation that would prohibit politicians from using their campaign finance funds for personal use was signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. The new law comes after an ongoing investigative report by The Jackson Clarion-Ledger that illustrated how the state’s lax campaign finance laws and nearly nonexistent enforcement had created a tax-free second income for many Mississippi politicians, mostly funded by special interests.

Missouri – Ferguson Re-Elects White Mayor 2 Years After Mike Brown Incident
New York Times – John Eligon | Published: 4/5/2017

Although much of the activism for racial justice today stems from the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, voters in the town re-elected James Knowles III, a white Republican who has been the object of much scorn among those who believe the city has discriminated against black people. About 67 percent of the city’s 21,000 residents are black, and 29 percent are white. Some activists are now assessing what is happening politically for black people and whether there needs to be a complete rethinking of how they engage with mainstream politics.

Nevada – What Is a Conflict of Interest? Lawsuit against Reno Lawmaker Might Decide.
Reno Gazette-Journal – Seth Richardson | Published: 4/8/2017

State Sen. Heidi Gansert works for the University of Nevada, Reno as executive director of external relations, Gansert’s focus is on economic development for the university. The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit that argues her job presents a conflict-of-interest to her role as a state senator. As a university employee, Gansert is a part of the Nevada System of Higher Education in the executive branch. As an elected lawmaker, she is serving in the legislative branch and votes will come up on a variety of higher education bills. Gansert’s case is not isolated and illustrates the sometimes precarious positions of lawmakers professional careers and public service. With Nevada’s citizen legislature, lawmakers almost always have an outside job. Sometimes, those two lives can seem at odds with each other.

New Jersey – N.J. Election Watchdog: State needs pay-to-play reform
Bergen Record – Nicholas Pugliese | Published: 4/6/2017

Political contributions made by New Jersey’s public contractors declined in 2016 for the third year in a row, but the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) remains concerned about the rise of PACs and issue-advocacy groups that are not subject to “pay-to-play” restrictions and disclosure requirements. New Jersey law generally bars any company with a contract worth more than $17,500 from giving more than $300 to gubernatorial candidates and party fundraising committees. Any contractor that gives money must disclose that to the ELEC.

New Mexico – Governor Vetoes Campaign Finance Reform
New Mexico In Depth – Trip Jennings | Published: 4/7/2017

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation that would have required greater public disclosure by those who spend big money in campaigns. Senate Bill 96 would have updated the law to address the proliferation of unlimited election fundraising and spending by independent groups since a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It would have required any groups making independent campaign expenditures before primary or general elections to report the source of their money. The bill also would have doubled campaign contribution limits for lawmakers.

New Mexico – Martinez Vetoes Bill to Close Lobbyist Loophole
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish | Published: 4/6/2017

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation that aimed to close a loophole in the state’s lobbying law that was created last year. Because of the veto, lobbyists will not need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, said Martinez told him it was unclear if Senate Bill 393 required aggregate reporting of all expenses less than $100 or specific reporting of every expense once a $100 threshold was reached.

New York – On Ethics, Cuomo Budget Entered Like a Lion and Emerged Like a Lamb
New York Times – Lisa Foderaro | Published: 4/11/2017

Despite the recent convictions of the leaders of both the Assembly and the Senate, and indictments against some of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own associates, state lawmakers failed to take up a raft of ethics proposals included in the governor’s executive budget. Their absence in a $153 billion budget, which included a roster of contentious items, left watchdog organizations, academics who study Albany, and even some legislators doing a collective tsk-tsk. Some blamed the Senate for putting up the most resistance to reforms; others criticized Cuomo for not making them a priority.

Oklahoma – LGBTQ Group’s Capitol Visit Prompts Mass Email About ‘Cross-Dressers in the Building’
Tulsa World – Randy Krehbiel | Published: 4/10/2017

An email telling teenage pages that “there are cross-dressers in the building” caused a furor in the Oklahoma Capitol. The email, by a House staffer who oversees the page program, was apparently prompted by the visit of about 70 LGBTQ students from the Tulsa area who were lobbying mostly on behalf of HIV awareness and education funding and support. Their presence prompted Karen Kipgen, supervisor of the page program, to arrange for pages to use private staff and member restrooms. Kipgen also sent a mass email saying “As per the Speaker’s office, Pages are being allowed access to the ladies restroom across from 401, for today. Again, there are cross-dressers in the building.”

Oklahoma – State Officials Disclosing Fewer Facts Than Ever About Their Personal Finances
Oklahoma Watchdog – Molly Bryant | Published: 4/8/2017

Each year, Oklahoma legislators and statewide elected officials must report details about their personal finances to alert the public to potential conflicts-of-interest. This year, however, they generally will be asked to report fewer facts than ever – that is, since the disclosure rules were approved in 1994. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission has revised the disclosure form and slashed the number of state employees required to file it, from nearly 6,000 to 362. Those who must file do not have to reveal as many potential sources of income outside of their state jobs. Unlike before, they also do not have to disclose all contracts they have with a state agency or all income-producing relationships with registered lobbyists.

Jim-SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.