News You Can Use Digest – April 7, 2017

campaign finance, ethics, legislative issues, lobbying, News You Can Use
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Federal:

DOJ Renews Promise of Action on Lobbying Law Compliance
Bloomberg BNA – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 4/5/2017

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) annual report on Lobbyist Disclosure Act (LDA) compliance noted the Justice Department expects to take action on four “chronic offenders” of the law. The report said House and Senate officials in charge of administering the LDA have referred thousands of cases of noncompliance, but the U.S. attorney’s office has been able to resolve only about half of these cases through letters and other contacts seeking compliance. The GAO said officials believe many of those who fail to file disclosure reports are no longer lobbying. But more than 1,300 referrals regarding failure to file lobbying reports remained unresolved last year. Meanwhile, another 700 referrals for failing to file required reports on lobbyists’ political contributions also remained unresolved.

Ethics Panel Opens Investigation into Nunes
The Hill – Cristina Marcos and Katie Bo Williams | Published: 4/6/2017

House Intelligence Committee Chairperson Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) temporarily recused himself from all matters related to the panel’s ongoing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. The House ethics committee released a statement saying it would investigate allegations that “Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct.” Nunes has come under fire for going to the White House grounds to meet with a secret source and view documents he said suggest President Trump and his transition team members’ identities may have been improperly revealed in reports on surveillance of foreign targets.

Former Trump Staffers Hunt for Foreign Lobbying Work
Politico – Theodoric Mayer, Kenneth Vogel, and Josh Dawsey | Published: 4/3/2017

Some of President Donald Trump’s former campaign hands are rushing to sign lucrative deals with foreign clients, shrugging off their own pledges to avoid foreign lobbying and the president’s vow to “drain the swamp.” Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s firm is one a handful of upstarts looking to undercut the lobbying giants that for years dominated the market for foreign lobbying work in Washington. They are betting their experience on Trump’s campaign and relationships with former colleagues now in his administration can woo foreign governments away from more established rivals.

Trump Can Quietly Draw Money from Trust Whenever He Wants, New Documents Show
Washington Post – Drew Harwell | Published: 4/3/2017

The trust agreement that Donald Trump used to put his adult sons in charge of his company allows him to draw money from it upon his request, illustrating the thin divide between the president and his private fortune. Trump and his attorneys have pointed to the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust as a response to widespread worries from ethics lawyers, who have said the president’s refusal to divest ownership of his company creates the potential that he can derive personal profit from his public office. Trump’s trust is not “blind” because he knows how his assets are performing, has close relationships with both trustees, can make money off the trust’s financial interests, and can revoke the trust at any time.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Ethics Commission Finds Probable Cause Against Gov. Robert Bentley
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 4/5/2017

Gov. Robert Bentley could face criminal prosecution after the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause he broke ethics and campaign finance laws in a sex-tinged scandal that has engulfed him for over a year. The commission voted to refer four issues to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to pursue charges. The commission found probable cause to believe Bentley had misused state resources and campaign funds, improperly accepted a campaign donation outside of an allowed fundraising window, and lent himself campaign money when he was not a candidate. Bentley has been under scrutiny since recordings surfaced last year of him making suggestive remarks to a female aide before his divorce.

Arizona – Arizona Secretary of State’s Website to Track Political Spending Triples in Cost
Arizona Republic – Mary Jo Pitzl | Published: 3/29/2017

It was a key talking point of her 2014 campaign for secretary of state: Michele Reagan would build a website to allow the public to track the money spent in political campaigns, from the governor’s office down to the smallest town-council race. But the much-touted See the Money website has yet to materialize, despite a nearly $500,000 investment, a now-completed contract with an outside firm, and a string of promised due dates. Reagan said she is moving the project in-house and is determined to have it online by January.

Colorado – A Dark Money Lawsuit, a Colorful Cast of Characters, and Colorado’s Citizen Campaign Finance Cop
Colorado Independent – Corey Hutchins | Published: 4/4/2017

The best drama in Colorado politics is not occurring at the Capitol, but in a courtroom.  The characters in the dispute are half the intrigue. At issue is the question of whether it is legal for someone to set up a nonprofit to shield donors from disclosure even when that nonprofit works almost exclusively, through an affiliated entity, on campaigns for or against candidates. In Colorado, anyone who lodges a complaint about a suspected campaign finance violation has to prove his or her own case against an alleged violator in a courtroom setting. It is a system its critics say discourages average citizens from bringing complaints against powerful people or well-funded groups.

Florida – Hillsborough Commissioners Add Themselves to New Lobbying Ordinance
SaintPetersBlog.com – Mitch Perry (Florida Politics) | Published: 4/5/2017

Registered lobbyists can no longer text or email Hillsborough County commissioners during meetings. Lobbyists who violate the new ordinance can be punished with a ban of up to a year, though it would take four violations to reach that. Commissioners that violate the ban and do not report communications sent to them during meeting will be punished with a $250 fine on the first offense and $500 on the second. If a third violation occurs, the Florida Commission on Ethics will be notified.

Kansas – These High School Journalists Investigated a New Principal’s Credentials. Days Later, She Resigned.
Washington Post – Samantha Schmidt | Published: 4/5/2017

A group of reporters and editors from the student newspaper, the Booster Redux at Pittsburg High School in Kansas, had gathered to talk about Amy Robertson, who was hired as the high school’s head principal on March 6. The student journalists had begun researching Robertson, and quickly found some discrepancies in her education credentials. When they researched Corllins University, the private university where Robertson said she got her master’s and doctorate degrees, the website did not work. They found no evidence it was an accredited university. The students began digging into a weeks-long investigation that would result in an article questioning the legitimacy of the principal’s degrees and of her work as an education consultant. Robertson resigned four days later.

Maine – Lying-to-Legislature Bill Narrowed to Apply to Lobbyists Only
Portland Press Herald – Kevin Miller | Published: 4/3/2017

A legislative committee voted in favor of a bill to make it a crime for lobbyists to lie to Maine lawmakers after narrowing a bill to exclude the public, and themselves. Maine is one of nine states that have no laws against providing false information in committee. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia prohibit lobbyists from providing false testimony, and some states require speakers to take an oath before testifying in committee.

North Carolina – Lawmakers Revive Plan for Combined State Elections, Ethics Board
WRAL – Matthew Burns | Published: 4/4/2017

House Republicans would prefer changing a law struck down by a three-judge panel related to overseeing North Carolina elections instead of extending a court fight with new Gov. Roy Cooper. A new measure approved by the Elections Committee would rework an eight-member state panel overseeing both elections and ethics rules the judges threw out as unconstitutional and give more control over the board to Cooper. The revised bill would still merge the elections and ethics boards, but the governor would be able to appoint all members from nominations made by the state Republican and Democratic parties. The board would be split evenly between the two parties.

Pennsylvania – Have Bribery, Fraud and Abuse of Power Become Synonymous with ‘Pennsylvania’?
PennLive.com – Jan Murphy | Published: 3/30/2017

Pennsylvanians have witnessed scores of corruption cases involving state officials from both sides of the political aisle and all three state governmental branches. Whether it is on a per-capita basis or simply the sheer number of high-profile corruption cases in recent years, Muhlenberg College political scientist Chris Borick said it is obvious that “something is pretty wrong in our political system in terms of corruption.” Some blame it on lax rules that do not hold government officials accountable or lawmakers’ failure to enact reform laws such as a ban on gifts or limits on campaign contributions. Though watchdogs continue to seek such reforms, little progress has been made in the Legislature.

Tennessee – Analysis: Possible double dipping at Tennessee statehouse
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert | Published: 3/31/2017

A review of campaign finance reports filed in 2016 by all 131 current Tennessee lawmakers found state representatives and senators spent $189,700 combined in campaign money on expenses that may have been paid for by state funds. But lawmakers are not required to report specific dates and locations of smaller purchases that are typically less than $100. That makes it unclear how many of those expenses also may have been reimbursed by the state, providing the opportunity to obscure double dipping or other financial abuse.

Tennessee – Nashville’s Private Club with a PAC
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert and Dave Boucher | Published: 4/2/2017

Many nights, the most powerful Tennessee lawmakers imbibe and eat at The Standard, a restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol. Often, it is at the expense of their campaign donors. An analysis found 25 Tennessee legislators and one prominent Nashville elected official, or their PACs, combined with seven other state PACs to spend $150,000 from their campaign coffers at the restaurant and club since 2009. More than $50,000 of that money was spent by elected officials to pay for their personal memberships in the club. The Standard also operates its own state PAC, which has donated almost $100,000 to state and local leaders who are members or who frequent the club.

Vermont – Vermont’s Campaign Finance Law Survives Legal Challenge
U.S. News & World Report; Associated Press –   | Published: 4/3/2017

A challenge to Vermont’s campaign finance laws has been struck down in federal court. Dean Corren, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor, sued the state for violating his First Amendment rights, alleging a restriction on fundraising for publicly financed candidates is unconstitutional.

 

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.