News You Can Use Digest – July 14, 2017

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

Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them.
New York Times – Emily Badger | Published: 7/6/2017

In the last few years, Republican-controlled state Legislatures have intensified the use of what are known as pre-emption laws, to block towns and cities from adopting measures favored by the left. The states are not merely overruling local laws; they have walled off whole new realms where local governments are not allowed to govern at all. Several states are now threatening to withhold resources from communities that defy them and to hold their elected officials legally and financially liable. There is disagreement on who started the fight: states in stripping municipal power, or cities in seizing new roles that were not theirs to begin with.

Federal:

Is Donald Trump Jr.’s ‘I Love It’ Email a Smoking Gun or a Distraction?
Washington Post – Marc Fisher and David Nakamura | Published: 7/12/2017

When Donald Trump Jr. said “I love it” to the prospect of obtaining damaging information from friendly Russians about Hillary Clinton in June of last year, did that constitute a smoking gun? In one America, the answer was a pretty solid yes. Many media outlets and some Democrats straight-out declared the email the “smoking gun” in the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to take down the Clinton candidacy. Many other news organizations hedged a bit, attaching a question mark to the term. But to supporters of President Trump, the gun was not smoking, it was just more of the same noise that has been cluttering up this presidency since its inception.

The Deep Industry Ties of Trump’s Deregulation Teams
New York Times – Danielle Ivory and Robert Faturechi | Published: 7/11/2017

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts-of-interest. Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But The New York Times and ProPublica identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or end, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

Washington Firm Discloses Lobbying Senior Trump Officials on Macedonia
BuzzFeed News – John Hudson | Published: 7/6/2017

Mercury Public Affairs is providing new details about a mysterious U.S. Justice Department filing it made in February for lobbying work related to Macedonia. The firm says it contacted aides to senior Trump administration officials on issues related to Macedonia during a 12-day period in February. Mercury never received payment for the work, according to the document. The Foreign Agents Registration Act form is a retroactive update to a February filing that gained attention after two reports pointed out Mercury did not disclose a foreign agent in the filing. The new form still does not list a foreign agent – it simply lists the Libertas Foundation of which little is known, as the entity the firm is working on behalf of.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: California Lawmakers Want Data on Lobbyists’ Race, Sexual Orientation
Sacramento Bee – Taryn Luna | Published: 7/10/2017

Leaders of the Legislative Asian Pacific Islander, Black, Jewish, Latino, LGBT, and Women’s caucuses in the California Legislature asked 400 lobbying firms, associations, and principals to provide them with the race, ethnicity, gender, and openly gay or lesbian orientation of their employees. Lawmakers said the request is intended to expand the conversation about cultural diversity in the Capitol workforce. Some lobbyists applauded the move for forcing a male-dominated industry to think about its hiring practices. Others expressed concern about how the data could be used against them if their employees are not diverse enough for the lawmakers.

Delaware: Wilmington Ethics Commission Quietly Disbanded under Mayor Williams
Wilmington News Journal – Christina Jedra | Published: 7/12/2017

The Wilmington Ethics Commission quietly dissolved after former Mayor Dennis Williams’ administration allowed members’ terms to expire. City officials have “no idea” how this happened, said Gary Fullman, who was Williams’ chief of staff. It appears sometime after Mayor Mike Purzycki took office in January, his administration became aware of the situation. After being told a story would be published by The Wilmington News Journal on the matter, the city issued a press release saying the board had reformed, announcing five new members and two returning. The members will need to be confirmed by the city council.

District of Columbia: D.C. Business Groups Fight Proposed Pay-to-Play Regulations
Washington Post – Peter Jamison | Published: 7/10/2017

Representatives of District of Columbia business organizations argued against proposed limits on political donations by companies that do business with the city, saying widespread suspicions that contractors have undue influence are unwarranted. Opponents of the “pay-to-play” regulations being mulled by council members relied on an argument long favored by critics of campaign finance laws: that proven instances of elected officials making decisions based on campaign donations are rare, if not nonexistent.

Hawaii: Can Revamped Honolulu Ethics Commission Rebuild Its Credibility?
Honolulu Civil Beat – Anita Hofschneider | Published: 7/13/2017

Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Jan Yamane must work to rebuild an agency that lost its bite in recent years due to internal strife and outside interference from Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration. The commission has been relatively quiet since Yamane was hired in August to replace Chuck Totto, who had been the agency’s executive director for nearly 16 years. Yamane said the commission now has a backlog of 40 to 50 complaints, on top of about 60 pending investigations. Yamane has been busy trying to get a handle on the hefty workload and figure out how the commission can be more efficient and effective. There are about 10,000 city employees and only five ethics commission staffers, only three of which can perform investigations.

Iowa: Trial Begins in Lawsuit Alleging Toxic ‘Boys’ Club’ at Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines Register – Grant Rodgers | Published: 7/9/2017

A jury will hear testimony in a lawsuit that claims the Iowa Capitol sheltered a toxic “boys’ club” where some male senators and their staffers spoke freely about sex and women’s bodies with few or no consequences. Kirsten Anderson, a former communications director for the Senate Republican caucus, brought the lawsuit after being fired in May 2013, just seven hours after giving her boss a memorandum asking for an investigation into workplace culture at the Capitol and for stronger policies against harassment. Republican leaders have said Anderson was fired because the quality of her work was deteriorating. But court documents filed by Anderson portray scenes where she and other female staffers were forced to listen to comments about the size of women’s breasts and gossip about colleagues’ sex lives.

Montana: Legislators Face No Punishment for Ignoring Financial Disclosure Forms
The Missoulian – Jayme Fraser | Published: 7/3/2017

Montana’s system to monitor conflicts-of-interest among legislators received a failing grade in an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. Some lawmakers ignore or flout the rules that do exist and no one has been sanctioned for breaking them in decades. Although legislators cannot take their seat without filing a financial disclosure form, no one ensures state officials fill them out completely. The two-page document was intended to be the baseline by which the public can gauge if elected officials and state employees misuse public posts. It is a key component of the law designed to fulfill a requirement in the Montana Constitution that they must work for the public and not themselves.

New York: Appeals Court Overturns Conviction of Sheldon Silver
Albany Times Union – Matthew Hamilton | Published: 7/13/2017

An appeals court overturned the conviction of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of accepting nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks disguised as legal payments from a pair of law firms that had business before the state. The appeals court cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, made after Silver’s conviction, which narrowed the definition of the kind of official conduct that can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Silver’s contention that jury instructions in his trial were erroneous in light of the decision handed down in McDonnell v. United States.

North Carolina: Lobbyist Fundraiser Invite Raises Questions
WRAL – Laura Leslie | Published: 7/10/2017

Current lobbyist and former state Rep. Mike Hager is co-hosting a fundraiser for North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, but says he has not broken the state law against political contributions by lobbyists. Watchdogs say it is confusing and gives the appearance of impropriety. “I’ve never worried a whole lot about what people think,” Hager said. “It’s the actuality of the law that we’re complying with. That’s the only issue I have.”

Pennsylvania: Convicted Ex-Lawmakers Enjoy Access as Lobbyists
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Debra Erdley and Kevin Zwick | Published: 7/9/2017

Numerous former lawmakers, legislative staff, and cabinet officials in Washington, D.C., as well as state capitals across the country, have turned to lobbying. Pennsylvania requires a one-year waiting period before lawmakers and agency officials can begin lobbying former colleagues. A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers-turned-lobbyists spent the waiting period behind bars. They include former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Loeper – all of whom left office for prison after being convicted of abuses of power.

Texas: Dallas Wants $8,000 Back from Philip Kingston for Missing Too Many Council Meetings
Dallas News – Tristan Hallman | Published: 7/8/2017

Officials say city council member Philip Kingston owes Dallas taxpayers thousands of dollars. Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich told Kingston in a memorandum that he missed too many meetings in the past 12 months and needs to pay the city back $8,160 of his $60,000 salary. But Kingston said he is disputing the city’s calculations and does not plan to return any money. The unusual quarrel and financial penalty stem from a city charter provision. If council members miss more than 10 percent of the total “regular meetings” in a compensation year, their pay is to be docked by the same percentage of meetings they missed.

Virginia: How a Shadowy Nonprofit Spent $184K in Virginia’s Governor’s Race with Almost Total Anonymity
Richmond Times-Dispatch – Graham Moomaw | Published: 7/7/2017

Virginians for a Better Future incorporated in Delaware as a social welfare organization two weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial primaries, and then spent $184,000 on an advertising campaign to support Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s bid for the Democratic nomination and attack his opponent, Tom Perriello. The identity of the donor or donors behind the ad campaign might never be disclosed. Other states have taken steps to close reporting loopholes for 501(c)(4)s, but a bill to force social welfare groups to disclose their donors failed this year in the Virginia General Assembly.

 

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.