News You Can Use Digest – December 20, 2013

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

How Washington Starves its Election Watchdog

The Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 12/17/2013

The recent hacking of the FEC’s computer system marked the nadir of a year that ranks among the commission’s darkest, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. Bitter ideological warfare among commissioners and congressional and White House indifference have yielded an agency less able to fulfill its stated mission: to “prevent corruption in the federal campaign process by administering, enforcing, and formulating policy.”

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Ariz. High Court Upholds Campaign Giving Limits

East Valley Tribune; Associated Press –   | Published: 12/18/2013

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled candidates can accept much larger sums of money from donors. The justices said the Legislature was within its legal right to decide that contenders for both statewide and legislative office can take up to $4,000 from individuals and PACs. The brief order also lifted the injunction an appeals court put in place blocking the higher limits from taking effect.

California – L.A. City Council Drops Push for Increase in Gift Limit

Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser | Published: 12/11/2013

The Los Angeles City Council agreed not to raise the level of gifts that members are allowed to accept from the current $100 per donor per year. Council President Herb Wesson had sought a change in the law to allow members to receive up to $150 in gifts from each supporter, but he dropped that when his and other council members’ offices were deluged with calls.

Colorado – Appeals Court Upholds Ruling against Gessler

Colorado Law Week; Staff –   | Published: 12/12/2013

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled several changes to campaign finance disclosure regulations made by Secretary of State Scott Gessler were invalid. The court affirmed a lower court ruling that struck down rules that reduced or eliminated disclosure requirements for political committees, and threw out Gessler’s rule that narrowed the definition of “electioneering communications.”

Florida – David Jolly Has Unique Challenge: Lobbyist seeking seat in Congress

Tampa Bay Times – Alex Leary | Published: 12/10/2013

David Jolly parlayed his work as an aide to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Young into a lobbying career, the quintessential Washington “revolving-door” story. As he pursues the Republican nomination in a congressional special election, opponents have seized on Jolly’s lucrative profession. Many former aides have left for K Street jobs over the years, returning to Capitol Hill to ply a system they know intimately. But it is rare for a lobbyist to run for office, and those who do face the same attacks as Jolly is now.

Georgia – State Sen. Don Balfour Cleared of All Charges

Creative Loafing Atlanta – Max Blau | Published: 12/19/2013

Georgia Sen. Don Balfour was found not guilty on all 18 felony corruption counts against him. He was accused of illegally claiming legislative expense and mileage pay, and double-billing the state and his private employer for some expenses. Balfour told jurors he was very busy as chairperson of the Senate Rules Committee and as an executive of Atlanta-based Waffle House, and the inaccurate filings were unintentional. Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said Balfour’s suspension from office is lifted immediately so he can resume his duties as a senator.

Georgia – Subpoenas Related To Ethics Complaints Involving Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

Huffington Post – Christina Cassidy (Associated Press) | Published: 12/12/2013

A federal grand jury is investigating the Georgia ethics commission, which cleared Gov. Nathan Deal of campaign finance violations during his 2010 campaign. The grand jury has subpoenaed Executive Secretary Holly LeBarge, staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, and staffer John Hair, seeking documents related to the commission’s probe of Deal’s campaign finances. Deal’s lawyer said the investigation likely concerns allegations that documents in the case went missing, and does not involve the governor.

Michigan – Michigan Senate OKs Campaign Donation Increases

Detroit News – Gary Heinlein | Published: 12/12/2013

Michigan lawmakers moved to raise maximum contributions to candidates for the first time in decades and keep intact rules so donors behind certain political ads can stay anonymous. Senate Bill 661 won final approval in the Senate after barely clearing the House a day earlier. Donation limits to candidates would double after going unchanged for 37 years and rise with inflation over time.

Minnesota – Minnesota Lawmakers Probe into Problems with State’s Campaign Finance Data

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Rachel Stassen-Berger and Glen Howatt | Published: 12/16/2013

Minnesota’s campaign finance regulatory agency plans to implement new auditing procedures and seek a law change to deal with errors in its online database of political fundraising transactions. Agency officials testified at a legislative hearing following a Minneapolis Star Tribune analysis that found one in seven electronic records of donations tracked by the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board is incorrect.

Mississippi – Attorney General Jim Hood Appealing Federal Judge’s Ruling on Mississippi Campaign Finance Law

Mississippi Press; Associated Press –   | Published: 12/14/2013

State Attorney General Jim Hood appealed a federal judge’s ruling that part of Mississippi’s campaign finance law creates an unconstitutional burden for people or groups that spend at least $200 to support or oppose a ballot initiative. U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock has said Mississippi may regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures, but its “convoluted and exacting” requirements are too burdensome with the $200 threshold.

New Jersey – Christie’s Top Port Authority Appointee Baroni Resigns amid Escalating Probe into GWB Lane Closures

Bergen Record – Shawn Boburg and John Reitmeyer | Published: 12/13/2013

A burgeoning scandal led to the resignation of Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and David Wildstein, who agreed to step down from his position as director of interstate capital projects. Both men have caught up in a widening investigation into allegations they may have orchestrated a series of massive traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge as political payback against the mayor of Fort Lee, the town at one end of the bridge, for not endorsing Gov. Chris Christie for re-election.

New Mexico – Federal Appeals Court Overturns New Mexico Campaign Funding, Spending Limits

Columbus Republic – Susan Montoya Bryan (Associated Press) | Published: 12/18/2013

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court was right in issuing a preliminary injunction to keep New Mexico from imposing limitations on certain contributions going to and from political parties and PACs. At issue is whether political committees that are not formally affiliated with a political party or candidate can receive unlimited contributions for independent expenditures. Republicans argue the state’s cap on such donations is unconstitutional.

New York – Where Albany Does Business

Capital Playbook – Jimmy Vielkind | Published: 12/5/2013

Time and again, the gears of government have turned not during official gatherings in meeting rooms at the New York Capitol, but over dinners and drinks at any number of “power spots” around the Albany region. Stop by any of these sites on a Monday or Tuesday night in January or July and you might be surprised who you run into, or what is going on.

Pennsylvania – Board Still Struggling with Phila. Gift Rule

Philadelphia Inquirer – Claudia Vargas | Published: 12/18/2013

Staff members for the Philadelphia Board of Ethics made their latest recommendation on proposed changes to the city’s gift law. The staff proposed barring city officers and employees from accepting any gifts worth more than $100 per year, including $25 in cash, from any nonfamily source. But the board and other ethics advocates are still not happy with the limits and the overall language.

Virginia – In Probe of Va. Gov. McDonnell, Prosecutors Agreed to Delay Decision on Charges

Washington Post – Rosalind Helderman, Carol Leonnig, and Sari Horwitz | Published: 12/19/2013

Federal prosecutors have delayed filing felony charges against Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife over a gift scandal after their legal teams made a face-to-face appeal in Washington, D.C. The attorneys had been pressing Justice Department officials to reconsider or delay the charges, at least long enough for McDonnell to complete his four-year term.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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