News You Can Use Digest – April 21, 2017

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

Social Media Is Not Contributing Significantly to Political Polarization, Paper Says
New York Times – Jonah Engel Bromwich | Published: 4/13/2017

Many have argued that social media, where users can find their viewpoints reinforced with slanted news stories and the partisan commentary of friends, has played a role in reinforcing political polarization. But a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests the demographic groups that have experienced the most polarization in recent years are the ones least likely to be consuming media online.

Federal:

The $1 Million Upside for an RNC Digital Guru
Politico – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 4/18/2017

The Republican Party’s top digital strategist in 2016 got a nearly $1 million payout from a firm he co-founded that collected online contributions to the party and its nominee, Donald Trump, despite earlier claims the strategist had severed his ties to the company. Gerrit Lansing’s joint roles, while legal, have raised questions of cronyism and profit-making at the Republican National Committee (RNC), and now sparked an internal review “to prevent a situation like this from happening again,” the RNC said. Operatives representing multiple GOP presidential and Senate campaigns said Lansing pushed them to use the company he co-founded, Revv, to collect their online donations after he was hired for the top RNC job, and he used the fact that the RNC was using his platform as a selling point. Lansing was subsequently named to a top role in Trump’s White House.

United Airlines Spent Millions Fighting Proposals to Protect Passenger Rights
International Business Times – Frank Bass (MapLight) and David Sirota | Published: 4/12/2017

United Airlines, facing intense criticism over its recent removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight, has reportedly spent more than $40 million in lobbying over the last decade, including on efforts to block various pro-consumer proposals. An investigation found the airline spent nearly $7.3 million in the last two-year session of Congress, largely to fight legislation that, among many things, included measures to require airlines to allow families to sit together and bar airlines from charging customers to use bathrooms on flights. In addition to the money spent on lobbying, United reportedly spent millions of dollars on federal campaign contributions and was part of a successful effort to push President Trump’s administration to delay proposed rules regarding airline fee transparency, according to the review.

With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’
New York Times – Eric Lipton, Ben Protess, and Andrew Lehren | Published: 4/15/2017

The New York Times, in collaboration with ProPublica, said that after analyzing reports from lobbyists and interviews with ethics officials, it appears at least two of President Trump’s appointees in the White House may have violated ethics rules. Determining whether the White House violated its own ethics rules by hiring lobbyists is a murky area, however, because the investigation also found the Trump administration had secretly been issuing waivers to the rules it first introduced in a stated effort to increase transparency. Trump signed an executive order in January eliminating a rule mandating that lobbyists could not accept jobs in federal agencies they had lobbied. The elimination of that rule blurred ethical standards for at least 4,000 executive hires, the investigation found.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Donors to Former Gov. Bentley’s ‘Dark Money’ Group Still a Mystery
AL.com – Kent Faulk | Published: 4/16/2017

A legislative report that detailed Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s affair with an adviser and intimidation tactics used to cover it up led to his resignation and guilty plea to two misdemeanor charges. But the special investigator and author of that report for the House Judiciary Committee could not shed any new light on who may have donated money to the Alabama Council for Excellence in Government. That non-profit, dark money group, which had been formed by Bentley, paid for at least part of the salary of his senior political adviser and love interest Rebekah Mason. Attorneys in at least three different lawsuits against the Bentley administration also have questions about the organization.

Alabama – For Alabama Christians, Governor Bentley’s Downfall Is a Bitter Blow
New York Times – Alan Blinder | Published: 4/11/2017

As governor, Robert Bentley would quote the Bible before the Alabama Legislature and say God had elevated him to the state Capitol. In his dermatology practice, in the city where he was a Baptist deacon, he sometimes witnessed to patients. And when he was a first-time candidate for statewide office, his campaign headquarters were often filled with volunteers from local churches. When Bentley resigned from office and pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in the wake of the sex scandal that ended his 50-year marriage, his downfall reflected both enduring and contemporary challenges for evangelical voters. To many of the conservative Christians who unexpectedly propelled Bentley into power, his demise was a dispiriting setback in an age when they feel their values are under siege.

Alaska – Here’s Why Alaska Legislators, Staffers and Lobbyists Are Listening to Wu-Tang Clan
Alaska Dispatch News – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 4/17/2017

A new playlist with instrumentals from Wu-Tang Clan and Pink Floyd has won a fan base among Alaska lawmakers, lobbyists, and staffers stuck watching the Legislature’s public-access channel during extended breaks from debate. The music comes courtesy of Gavel Alaska, the public television program that streams House and Senate floor debates and committee hearings. The Legislature cuts off the station’s audio feed when lawmakers bang the gavel for an “at-ease,” prompting producers to turn up the music. This year’s new mix of music has produced some happy coincidences, such as when Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” (short for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”) played during a break from the House’s debate on the operating budget.

Florida – Miami Lawmaker Apologizes on Senate Floor for Using Racial Slur
Miami Herald – Patricia Mazzei, Steve Bousquet, and Kristin Clark | Published: 4/19/2017

Amid calls for his resignation, Florida Sen. Frank Artiles apologized on the Senate floor for a tirade at a club that included making derogatory comments about a fellow senator and using a racial slur. He specifically apologized to Sen. Audrey Gibson, Sen. Perry Thurston, and Senate President Joe Negron. Shortly before the floor session, Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee. Media reports said Artiles’ tirade apparently stemmed from being upset that Gibson had voted against bills he sponsored and had asked critical questions about the measures.

Illinois – Ethics Board Expands Illegal Lobbying Review after Tribune Report on Emanuel Email
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 4/19/2017

The Chicago Board of Ethics found probable cause that an additional eight individuals and the companies they represent violated the city’s lobbying law over emails exchanges with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The board will send letters notifying them they likely violated the law. They will have 10 business days to respond, then the ethics panel will meet and make a final determination on the cases. In February, the board fined former Uber executive David Plouffe $90,000 for illegally lobbying Emanuel through email on the city’s ride sharing ordinance. The release of Emanuel’s personal emails has provided the board with details of lobbying activity it has not had the wherewithal to uncover itself.

Illinois – Independent Contractor Exemption Suffers Surprise Council Defeat
Chicago Sun-Times – Fran Spielman | Published: 4/19/2017

The Chicago City Council voted down a controversial measure that would have allowed people working for aldermen as independent contractors to avoid disclosing who else is paying them and exempted them from city ethics rules. Supporters wanted to carve out the exceptions, saying they mistakenly classified independent contractors as city employees in early 2016 when they updated the city ethics code. Aldermen contended it was unfair to categorize the contractors as employees because it would require them to disclose details about their own businesses that do not belong in the public realm. City Board of Ethics Chairperson William Conlon called the proposal “a very unhealthy secrecy that they are legislating into the laws of the city.”

Michigan – Macomb Co. Clerk Has Aide Call 911: Reporters harassing me
Detroit Free Press – Christina Hall | Published: 4/17/2017

Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Karen Spranger’s turbulent first year in office hit another bump recently when she ducked into a restroom to avoid a television news reporter and then had an employee call 911 to report she “felt harassed” and wanted “reporters to stop asking her questions” about problems in her office. Spranger, who less than four months into her tenure is facing a federal whistleblower lawsuit and possible litigation on another matter, had Deputy Register of Deeds Jacqueline Ryan make two emergency calls. Deputies from the sheriff’s office were dispatched to the county administration building. The deputies explained to both Ryan and Spranger “that the press is within their constitutional rights to be on the premises of a public building and request comments from public employees.”

Missouri –  Decrease in Lobbyists’ Gifts Hasn’t Limited Influence at the Missouri Capitol
Columbia Missourian – Sky Chadd | Published: 4/16/2017

The amount of money that lobbyists spend on Missouri lawmakers decreased in recent years, and many legislators promised not to accept lobbyists’ gifts or have them pay for meals. But that has not decreased their influence. Lobbyists still take lawmakers to lunch, though some pay for their own meal. They still testify at committee hearings, and they still converse with legislators in the Capitol’s rotunda. More than money, the most valuable thing lobbyists provide is information, lawmakers and lobbyists said. Legislators, in part because of term limits, have a short amount of time to understand the issues they vote on, and lobbyists can help fill in the gaps.

Missouri – Ethics 101: What defines a lobbyist in Missouri?
KSMU – Jennifer Moore | Published: 4/13/2017

Missouri law permits lawmakers to accept gifts like trips, meals, and tickets from lobbyists. And there is no limit on how much a lobbyist can spend on an elected official. Gov. Eric Greitens would like to ban lobbyist gifts, but with only a month left in this year’s legislative session, that may not happen this year. While that debate continues, KSMU offered a refresher on Missouri law regarding what defines a lobbyist.

Montana – Bullock Appoints Former State Lawmaker as Montana’s New Political Practices Commissioner
The Missoulian – Matt Volz (Associated Press) | Published: 4/19/2017

Gov. Steve Bullock appointed a former state lawmaker to be Montana’s top political watchdog. Jeff Mangan will replace Jonathan Motl as the commissioner of political practices. Mangan’s appointment must be approved by the state Senate. Motl’s term ended on January 1, but he has remained in office while a replacement was found. Republicans have said Motl has targeted them unfairly, a claim he has denied.

Texas – TABC Chief Will Resign after Agency Used Your Tax Dollars to Travel to Booze Industry Conferences
Dallas News – Dagney Pruner | Published: 4/18/2017

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) Executive Director Sherry Cook said she will resign in May amid revelations she spent state money on expensive trips to conferences funded largely by liquor companies. The revelations came after the leak of an internal flyer portraying Cook and other agency leaders in an airplane drinking bottles of Lone Star Beer ahead of a conference in San Diego. The caption of the flier reads “Here we come California! Woo Hoo!!!” Cook and other liquor officials received additional benefits during their travels, including “hazardous duty pay” after they received training to be peace officers. The number of state-provided cars allocated to the TABC also more than doubled since 2008 because of the peace-officer training.

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.