News You Can Use Digest – August 11, 2017

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

Ireland’s Tough Lobbying Rules Spark Cries for Similar Laws Elsewhere
Politico – Harry Cooper | Published: 8/9/2017

Two years after Ireland introduced some of the strictest laws in the world on lobbying transparency, the reforms are being held up as the gold standard for policymakers looking to shine a light on the often murky industry. Calls for transparency are growing louder across Europe. Ireland’s experience, say proponents of the law, has dispelled worries that tough lobbying rules would cripple the industry or limit the ability of politicians to do their job.

Political Donors Put Their Money Where the Memes Are
New York Times – Kevin Roos | Published: 8/6/2017

As television, radio, and newspapers give way to the power of social media, today’s political donor class is throwing its weight behind a new group of partisan organizations that specialize in creating catchy, highly shareable messages for Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms. Viral media expertise is emerging as a crucial skill for political operatives, and as donors look to replicate the success of the social media sloganeers who helped lift Donald Trump to victory, they are seeking out talented meme makers.

Federal:

FBI Conducted Predawn Raid of Former Trump Campaign Chairman Manafort’s Home
Washington Post – Carol Leonnig, Tom Hamburger, and Rosalind Helderman | Published: 8/9/2017

Investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller searched the Alexandria, Virginia, home of President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for documents related to tax, banking, and other matters. Mueller is investigating an array of allegations about Manafort, including work for the Ukrainian government and his role in a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians promising to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Manafort had previously given documents voluntarily to the congressional committees investigating Russia’s election meddling, including possible collusion with members of Trump’s campaign.

How the Trump Hotel Changed Washington’s Culture of Influence
Washington Post – Jonathan O’Connell | Published: 8/7/2017

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. has emerged as a Republican Party power center. And for the first time, a profit-making venture touts the name of a U.S. president in its gold signage. The hotel has become a symbol of the tangled ethical questions posed by Donald Trump’s presidency. Critics have charged that anyone seeking favor from the White House has an incentive to stay in rooms that can be booked for $400 per night or more. Trump tried to address ethical concerns by turning over the hotel’s management to his two eldest sons and vowing to take no hotel profits during his tenure. But he retained his ownership interest, allowing him to eventually profit from the holdings.

Soft Money Is Back – And Both Parties Are Cashing In
Politico – Carrie Levine | Published: 8/4/2017

An analysis of campaign finance data indicates Democrats and Republicans are now aggressively trafficking in a new, and perfectly legal, kind of soft money, enabled by a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the latest in a series eviscerating major parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. In a fundraising environment that had come to be dominated by super PACs, it is helping national political parties regain some relevancy after years of declining power. It’s also reviving an era when politicians were able to directly solicit large checks from donors on behalf of the political parties.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Upscale Santa Monica Hotel Faces $310,000 Fine for Concealing Campaign Contributions
Los Angeles Times – Alene Tchekmedyian | Published: 8/7/2017

A Santa Monica hotel is facing a $310,000 fine for improperly concealing donations to local candidates in hopes of preserving the property’s Pacific Ocean views. The California Fair Political Practices Commission said it would be the second largest fine in the agency’s history. The Huntley Hotel reimbursed individuals and local businesses for $97,350 in campaign contributions to candidates for Santa Monica City Council that it believed would oppose the expansion of a neighboring hotel so its name would not show up on disclosure reports. The commission will vote on whether to accept the settlement at its August 17 meeting.

Illinois: Emanuel Warns Those Emailing Him for Favors about Chicago’s ‘Strict Lobbyist Rules’
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 8/9/2017

The hard line drawn by the Chicago Board of Ethics has not discouraged a few powerful people from attempting to influence Mayor Rahm Emanuel through the mayor’s private emails, so much so that Emanuel has warned a few of them about the line they were about to cross. The Chicago Tribune found Emanuel’s personal email accounts had served as a private avenue of influence for those who sought action from – or access to – the mayor. The board issued fines for eight lobbying violations tied to the emails. Amid the added public scrutiny, Emanuel cautioned a real estate executive and longtime political ally about making requests of him and cited the city’s “strict lobbyist rules” in one exchange.

Kentucky: Gov. Matt Bevin Wins Property Tax Appeal on Anchorage Home
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 8/4/2017

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin won a property tax dispute that had prompted two ethics complaints from people who questioned whether the governor and his wife got a sweetheart deal when buying their new home. The Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals agreed with the value an appraiser hired by Bevin’s team had placed on the property that includes the governor’s home. The board determined the price Bevin paid for part of the property was above market value. The ruling seemed to vindicate Bevin, who has said for months that he bought the home for more than it was worth.

New York: JCOPE Moves Forward with Lobbying, FOIL Regulations
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/8/2017

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted to move forward in the process of implementing several regulations at a recent meeting, including broad lobbying guidelines that have been long in the works. The regulations still need to go through the rule-making process where the public will have a final chance to weigh in on them before formal adoption. The commission also voted to move forward with regulations laying out the amended requirements for what information lobbying groups must disclose about their donors.

Oregon: State Sought to Plant Negative Stories about Nonprofit
Portland Tribune – Nick Budnick | Published: 8/4/2017

There was a state government-funded public relations plan to demean a Portland-area healthcare nonprofit in a court battle over whether the Oregon Health Authority is giving FamilyCare a fair rate of reimbursement for its care of low-income Medicaid patients. FamilyCare been the most vocal coordinated care organization, often accusing state officials of incompetence or seeking to do the nonprofit harm, including in the pending litigation. The company’s critics call it excessively combative.

Pennsylvania: Montco Sheriff Gets Spotlight in Allentown Corruption Case
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck | Published: 8/7/2017

A payoff highlighted in the indictment against Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was a $5,000 night on the town, complete with tickets to a sold-out Philadelphia Eagles playoff game and a pricey dinner. Prosecutors say the mayor pressured two businesspeople seeking city contracts to pay for his night out. The incident has also placed a spotlight on another elected officeholder now poised to be a key witness should the case go to trial. Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, who before assuming his post in 2015 worked as a lawyer under contract with municipalities across the region, admits he and a business partner picked up the tab for that 2014 evening. They also poured $14,000 more into Pawlowski’s campaign coffers in pursuit of a $3 million tax-collection contract they ultimately won.

Rhode Island: City Treasurer Refuses to Pay Elorza Administration’s State House Lobbyist
WPRI – Dan McGowan | Published: 8/8/2017

Rhode Island’s legislative session is over, but a firm hired by the Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office to lobby the General Assembly still has not been paid. City Treasurer James Lombardi said Monday he has not cut a $36,000 check to Government Strategies because the administration never asked the city’s Board of Contract and Supply for approval to hire the firm. Lombardi contends that all city contracts worth more than $5,000 must be approved by the board before he releases a payment. He said he does not believe the lobbying contract needs to go out to bid, but the board does need to vote in favor of the agreement.

Texas: Are Lawmakers’ Business Ties with Public Entities a Conflict of Interest?
Texas Tribune – Neil Thomas | Published: 8/9/2017

In Texas, lawmakers earn just $7,200 per year as part-time public servants. They all have regular jobs, and some of them have business relationships with public entities that depend on the Legislature to approve their budgets, decide how much taxpayer money they receive, and pass the laws that regulate their operations. Some of those entities owe their very existence to the Legislature. Under state ethics laws, such apparent conflicts-of-interest are not prohibited. Lawmakers are banned from doing business with the state or counties, but only when that business relationship is specifically approved by legislation while they are serving at the Capitol.

Utah: Utah Lawmakers Pick Top Mormon Church Lobbyist to Run Office
Cache Valley Daily; Associated Press –   | Published: 8/3/2017

Utah lawmakers recommended the Mormon church’s chief lobbyist for a top job overseeing the state Legislature’s office that drafts laws, gives legal advice, and staffs committees. The appointment illustrates what is sometimes seen as a thin line between Utah’s government and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith to which most state lawmakers and residents belong. John Cannon’s nomination to head up the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel seems far too cozy and perpetuates a national impression the Mormon church runs the Utah Legislature, said the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

 

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