News You Can Use Digest – April 28, 2017

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

Can Elections Like Georgia’s Help Predict Future Races?
New York Times – Jonah Engel Bromwich | Published: 4/19/2017

The recent congressional election in Georgia was billed as having potential national implications, as an early test of whether anti-President Trump energy could fuel Democratic victory in a traditionally Republican district. It seems likely the same will be said for scattered upcoming special elections in other states. But political scientists and pollsters who analyze races for a living say so-called bellwether races are tricky to evaluate, if they even exist at all.

Some Public Pensions Help Trump, Report Shows
U.S. News & World Report – Julia Harte (Reuters) | Published: 4/26/2017

Public pension funds in at least seven U.S. states have invested millions of dollars in an investment fund that owns a New York hotel and pays one of President Donald Trump’s companies to run it. That arrangement could put Trump at risk of violating an obscure constitutional clause. The Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominium is owned by a Los Angeles investment group, the CIM Group, through one of its real estate funds. The possible problem for Trump lies in the fact that state- and city-run pension funds have invested in the CIM fund and pay it a few million dollars in quarterly fees to manage their investments in its portfolio. In return for marketing and managing the hotel-condo, CIM pays Trump International Hotels Management a percentage of the SoHo’s operating revenues. The Constitution bars the president from receiving additional payments beyond his salary from state governments.

Federal:

Flynn Probably Broke the Law by Failing to Disclose Foreign Payments, House Oversight Leaders Say
Washington Post – Karoun Demirjian | Published: 4/25/2017

Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the administration, the top oversight lawmakers from both parties in the U.S. House sad. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairperson of the House oversight committee, said Flynn also appeared to have inappropriately accepted the funds without permission. The declaration came after Chaffetz and other members of the committee reviewed classified documents related to Flynn, including the form he filled out in January 2016 to renew his security clearance.

Sessions Vows to Enforce an Anti-Bribery Law Trump Ridiculed
New York Times – Charlie Savage | Published: 4/24/2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions affirmed the U.S. Justice Department’s commitment to prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which bars corporations from bribing foreign officials to gain a business advantage. Paul Pelletier, a former deputy chief of the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said Sessions’ remarks were significant because of speculation about whether the administration would ease enforcement of the act. President Trump once called it a “horrible law.” The act was little invoked or discussed for years. But around 2005, the fraud section began enforcing it much more vigorously. It has rapidly become a major factor in business decisions about overseas operations, generating big fees for law firms and large fines for the government.

Slow Pace of Trump Nominations Leaves Cabinet Agencies ‘Stuck’ in Staffing Limbo
Washington Post – Lisa Rein | Published: 4/25/2017

President Trump’s Cabinet secretaries are growing exasperated at how slowly the White House is moving to fill hundreds of top-tier posts, warning the vacancies are hobbling efforts to oversee agency operations and promote the president’s agenda. The Senate has confirmed 26 of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet and other top posts. But for 530 other vacant senior-level jobs requiring confirmation, the president has advanced just 37 nominees. The nomination process has been slowed by the unusual degree of scrutiny the White House is giving job candidates. Prospective nominees for senior posts and even some of the more junior ones must win approval from competing camps inside the White House.

Trump Inauguration Admits Errors, Vows to Correct Numerous Faulty Donor Records
HuffPost – Christina Wilkie | Published: 4/25/2017

President Trump’s inaugural committee acknowledged it made errors in a list of donors submitted to the FEC. That admission followed an unusual crowdsourced reporting project, in which HuffPost reporter Christina Wilkie asked the public to examine more than 1,500 listings of individual donors and their addresses. That effort, along with others from other news organizations, seemed to turn up more than 300 examples where the data seemed not to match reality. The scores of mistakes contained in the FEC filing can largely be traced to a fundraising and ticketing system the Republican Party introduced this year, which provided special online access codes to Trump supporters.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – U.S. Top Court Preserves Alabama Campaign Finance Curbs
Reuters – Andrew Chung | Published: 4/24/2017

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Alabama’s ban on the transfer of campaign contributions between PACs. The decision left in place an appeals court ruling that the 2010 law does not unconstitutionally restrict political speech. To comply with the law, the Alabama Democratic Conference established separate banks accounts for candidate contributions and its other expenditures. It then proceeded to sue to the state and the Alabama attorney general, arguing in the law violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

California – Blacklist of Border-Wall Contractors Advanced in California Senate
Courthouse News Service – Nick Cahill | Published: 4/25/2017

Contractors would have to choose between building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and doing business with California under a bill that advanced in the Senate. Senate Bill 30 would blacklist companies who help to build the controversial wall that President Trump has promised to construct. In addition, Assembly Bill 946 would force the state to drop its pension investments in any companies involved in the project. Lobbyists for contractors spoke out against the bill at a hearing, saying it would create a slippery slope. “What next unpopular project would we blacklist for contractors”” asked Todd Bloomstine of the Southern California Contractors Association.

Missouri – Fewer Missouri Lawmakers Are Bunking with Lobbyists
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 4/21/2017

Four members of the Missouri Legislature and one former deputy attorney general have rented sleeping space from lobbyists this year, compared with eight last year. Staying in a room in a lobbyist’s home is an alternative to staying in a hotel near the Capitol, where lawmakers typically work from Monday afternoon to Thursday afternoon before heading back to their home districts. Some legislators buy condominiums, homes, or duplexes during their stints in office. Disclosure reports do not offer details on how much lawmakers are paying in rent.

North Carolina – Tar Heel Republicans Override Gov. Cooper Veto in Latest Partisan Clash
Raleigh News & Observer; Associated Press –   | Published: 4/25/2017

The Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of plans to combine elections and ethics oversight under one state board. Under Senate Bill 68, the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission would be merged into an eight-person board evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. County elections boards also would be split evenly, going against the tradition of giving a one-person majority on the state and county boards to the party of the governor. Lawmakers voted in a December special session to combine the two state boards, but a three-judge panel declared that legislation unconstitutional, ruling lawmakers had overstepped their authority. Lawmakers tweaked Senate Bill 68 to address those concerns.

Pennsylvania – Phila. Board of Ethics Fines Teamsters Local 830
Philadelphia Tribune – Layla Jones | Published: 4/22/2017

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics cited Teamsters union Local 830 for failing to follow the city’s lobbying disclosure law. During the battle in city council over Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed sweetened-beverage tax, the Teamsters paid Frank Keel to write opinion pieces opposing the levy. The ethics board said that amounts to lobbying. The law requires lobbyists to register and their clients to file reports disclosing what they have spent to influence city policy if it is more than $2,500 in one quarter. The board says the union paid Keel $5,000 for his services. The union will pay a $2,000 penalty. Keel, who was told to register as a lobbyist, was spared a fine.

Rhode Island – Panel: Probable cause that R.I. Supreme Court justice Flaherty violated ethics code
Providence Journal – Katie Mulvaney | Published: 4/25/2017

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to find probable cause that state Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty violated the ethics code by failing to report his service on the board of a Catholic lawyers’ group. Helen Hyde filed a complaint faulting Flaherty for not indicating on his financial disclosure statements from 2010 to 2015 that he served as president of the St. Thomas More Society of Rhode Island. Hyde alleges Flaherty held that role while presiding over her appeal before the state Supreme Court. She alleged that a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused her more than four decades ago and sought to recover damages from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence. Flaherty wrote the decision denying Hyde and Jeffrey Thomas damages.

Virginia – Virginia Makes Key Adjustments to Law Governing Gifts to Officials, Adds New Lobbyist Gift Notification
National Law Review – Andrew Garrahan | Published: 4/26/2017

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed House Bill 1854, which makes changes to the state’s lobbyist and gift laws. It eliminates a controversial exception to the $100 limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators and officials, adds a key new exception to that law, and includes an additional gift notification requirement for lobbyists, among other provisions.

Washington – ‘What’s Upstream?’ Ad Campaign Funded by EPA Did Not Break Federal Lobbying Rules, Investigation Finds
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 4/24/2017

A controversial clean-water campaign funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not violate federal lobbying rules, an audit by the agency’s inspector general determined. The What’s Upstream? campaign included billboards and ads to raise awareness of water issues surrounding agricultural pollution in the Puget Sound region. Some Republican lawmakers accused What’s Upstream?, which included a form letter on its website for people to contact their legislators, of being an “anti-farmer campaign.”  A letter signed by 145 members of Congress cited federal law that prohibits the EPA from using money for propaganda or advocacy without congressional approval.

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.