News You Can Use Digest – July 28, 2017

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

Lobbyist Gift-Giving at Issue in More States
Governing – Scott Rodd (Stateline) | Published: 7/21/2017

The laws that govern gift-giving from lobbyists to public officials vary widely from state to state. In states with relatively lenient laws, watchdogs and some elected officials have been working to impose tougher restrictions. They argue gifts from lobbyists may corrupt elected officials’ decision-making and cause them to stray from the best interests of their constituents. But critics have met resistance from lawmakers who say lobbyists offer informed perspectives on key issues, and these exchanges often happen over meals or sporting events that lobbyists pay for. A federal judge recently ruled a Kentucky law banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators violates lobbyists’ First Amendment rights.

Local Governments Keep Using This Software – But It Might Be a Back Door for Russia
Washington Post – Jack Gillum and Aaron Davis | Published: 7/23/2017

Many local and state government agencies say they are using a Russian brand of security software despite the federal government’s instructions to its own agencies not to buy the software over concerns about cyberespionage. The General Services Administration recently removed Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab from its list of approved vendors. In doing so, the agency’s statement suggested a vulnerability exists in Kaspersky that could give the Russian government backdoor access to the systems it protects, though they offered no explanation or evidence of it. Kaspersky has strongly denied coordinating with the Russian government and has offered to cooperate with federal investigators.

Federal:

New Ethics Chief Has Fought to Roll Back Restrictions
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 7/26/2017

Former colleagues of David Apol, who was named the new director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), praised his intelligence and his experience as a government ethics lawyer at a half-dozen different federal agencies over three decades. But tension has been building during two stints that Apol served at the OGE, his former colleagues said. Former OGE employees said they wondered if at times Apol had gone too far in questioning agency standards. Apol acknowledged he had frequently raised questions about how the OGE interprets ethics laws that govern the activity of 2.7 million federal employees in more than 130 executive agencies, including the White House.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona: Arizona Legislators Attend Conference with Help from Corporations That Lobby Them at Home
Arizona Republic – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez | Published: 7/23/2017

More than a third of the Republicans in the Arizona Legislature gathered in Denver to absorb conservative ideas and mingle with lobbyists at a conference where corporate donors picked up much of the tab. Arizona is always well-represented at the annual gathering of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization best-known for producing ready-to-introduce legislation crafted with input from corporate America. Helping to foot the bill were some of the very companies and lobbyists who work the halls of the Legislature to advance their own agendas.

Illinois: Ex-Ald. Singer Among 6 Fined for Illegally Lobbying Emanuel Via Email
Chicago Tribune – Hal Dardick | Published: 7/21/2017

A former city council member and an Internet pioneer turned venture capitalist were penalized for illegally lobbying Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel through his personal email account. The Board of Ethics levied a fine of $25,000 on former Ald. William Singer. The panel imposed a $2,000 fine on Marc Andreesen, the inventor of the Netscape Internet browser. Those were among the latest group of individuals the ethics panel said had violated city law and been fined for attempting to influence Emanuel or other officials through emailed contacts. The new sanctions raise the total to eight of those fined for improper lobbying in connection with the emails.

Kentucky: Complaints Over Gov. Matt Bevin’s Anchorage Mansion Unanimously Dismissed by Ethics Panel
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 7/21/2017

A state ethics panel said even if Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin got a $1 million discount on a mansion bought from a political donor and appointee, he did not violate the law. The ruling comes after two complaints were filed against Bevin over his purchase of a house and 10 acres of land from Neil Ramsey, who Bevin appointed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees. The complaints alleged Bevin accepted what amounted to an improper gift in buying the mansion in March.

Nevada: 20 Years of Term Limits: How the faces of Nevada’s Legislature have changed
Las Vegas Sun – Yvonne Gonzalez | Published: 7/20/2017

Term limits have helped make the Nevada Legislature more diverse in the almost 20 years since they were implemented, though the higher turnover has come with some costs. Experts say term limits have brought in new faces but reduced institutional knowledge as veteran lawmakers are pushed out. They say lobbyists have more power and the Legislative Counsel Bureau is even more vital both in educating new lawmakers and keeping the legislative process moving.

New Mexico: Secretary of State Unveils Changes to Proposed Disclosure Rules
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 7/25/2017

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver released revisions to proposed rules aimed at so-called dark money groups that can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections and ballot measures when acting independently. Several conservative groups with a statewide and national presence say Toulouse Oliver is overstepping her authority by requiring that independent expenditure groups disclose their contributors. Toulouse Oliver says New Mexicans have a right to know who is paying for ads that attempt to influence their vote. The revisions would raise the spending threshold to $2,500 before independent expenditure groups must reveal their donors.

New York: De Blasio Ally Didn’t Register as Lobbyist Despite Big Push for a Donor
New York Times – William Neuman | Published: 7/24/2017

Neal Kwatra, a political consultant and lobbyist with ties to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, ended up working so closely with top City Hall officials on behalf of a restaurant owner, Harendra Singh, that a city commissioner complained officials were giving Kwatra confidential information during delicate negotiations to settle a lawsuit with Singh. Yet none of Kwatra’s efforts on behalf of Singh in 2015 were registered as lobbying work, even though Kwatra and his company, Metropolitan Public Strategies, have registered as lobbyists for other clients, including United for Affordable NYC, a short-lived nonprofit group created by de Blasio to support his housing policies.

New York: Watchdogs Say Cuomo Is Skirting Campaign Finance Rules
New York Times – Brian Rosenthal | Published: 7/26/2017

Watchdogs say New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is again skirting campaign finance rules by using a secretive nonprofit to advance his agenda. The rules limit donations to political campaigns and require disclosure, and politicians are not supposed to get around them by using organizations that can accept unlimited secret contributions. But New Yorkers United Together is the third nonprofit formed by allies of Cuomo’s to emerge and support his policies.

North Carolina: NC Elections and Ethics Oversight Is Frozen Between Old and New, with Local Votes Approaching
Raleigh News and Observer – Anne Blythe | Published: 7/21/2017

The North Carolina Supreme Court said a revamped state elections board that also oversees ethics and lobbying controversies can stay in limbo for now, a holding pattern that could last months. The justices said Gov. Roy Cooper is not required to appoint members of the new state elections and ethics enforcement board created by Republican legislators. That means the board would be unable to make decisions or settle disputes until after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case on August 28.

Pennsylvania: Aide Pleads Guilty, Says Brady Campaign Paid Primary Challenger to Quit
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck and Chris Brennan | Published: 7/25/2017

A former aide to a political challenger of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady admitted she helped funnel the Brady’s cash to her former boss in exchange for his withdrawal from an election. Carolyn Cavaness, a pastor who was an aide to Philadelphia Judge Jimmie Moore during his 2012 candidacy in the Democratic primary, told officials she set up at Moore’s direction a shell company that would be used to accept $90,000 from Brady. In turn, she said, Moore would drop out of the race and use the cash to pay off his campaign debt. The money was routed through two political consultants who falsified invoices intended to justify the payments, officials said. Cavaness pleaded guilty to filing false statements to hide the transactions.

Pennsylvania: Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski Put City Hall Up for Sale to Highest Bidders, Prosecutor Says
Allentown Morning Call – Emily Opilo, Peter Hall, and Matt Assad | Published: 7/27/2017

The mayor of Allentown and the former mayor of Reading were indicted on federal corruption charges for engaging in an alleged series of “pay-to-play” schemes in which the politicians shook down businesses and individuals for campaign contributions in exchange for political favors. Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski and former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer have been charged with multiple counts of bribery and fraud. In two indictments, federal prosecutors spelled out charges against five people in the parallel corruption cases in Allentown and Reading.

South Carolina: FBI Investigating South Carolina Statehouse Corruption, Could Expand Scope of State Probe
Charleston Post and Courier – Andy Shain, Glenn Smith, and Schuyler Kropf | Published: 7/22/2017

Two former South Carolina Ports Authority officials say they have talked with FBI agents about an ongoing political corruption investigation. Former authority Chairperson Pat McKinney said the agents focused on the work the consulting firm run by Richard Quinn Sr. did for the agency. His son, state Rep. Rick Quinn Jr., was suspended from his seat after being charged with misconduct in office. The probe already has rattled the capital, where the Quinn family has been a force for decades. The addition of the FBI to the case only ratchets up the stakes, putting the federal government’s resources at the disposal of investigators and potentially allowing them to expand the scope of the inquiry to other targets.

Virginia: Transgender Woman Challenges Virginia Bathroom Bill Sponsor
Roanoke Times – 2017 Sarah Rankin (Associated Press) | Published: 7/25/2017

Democrat Danica Roem is challenging Republican Bob Marshall for his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. With such stark differences between the candidates, the race is expected to draw in big money and is seen by some as a referendum on rights for gay and transgender people. Roem would be the first openly transgender candidate to win and serve in a state Legislature, according to the Victory Fund, a PAC that supports her and calls Marshall “the most anti-LGBTQ member of the Virginia state legislature.” Marshall has sponsored some of the most socially conservative legislation in the past 25 years, including a measure this year that would have restricted the bathrooms that transgender people can use.

 

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.