News You Can Use Digest – July 7, 2017

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

CNN Story About Source of Trump Wrestling Video Draws Backlash
New York Times – Daniel Victor | Published: 7/5/2017

A CNN story about an anonymous Reddit user who created a widely circulated video of President Trump wrestling the network’s logo to the ground has inspired multiple backlashes. Some criticized it as a form of blackmail. Others raised issues of journalism ethics over the network granting conditional anonymity to the user. The 28-second video and its source have been the subject of questions since Trump tweeted it as he continued his attacks on the news media. The tweet, which was retweeted by the official presidential account, has become Trump’s most-shared post on Twitter.

The New York Times Will Fly You Around the World for $135,000. Is That a Problem?
Washington Post – Paul Farhi | Published: 7/5/2017

The New York Times is organizing and promoting a 26-day tour of nine countries, which it calls “Around the World by Private Jet: Cultures in Transformation.” The price is $135,000 per person, and the traveling party will be joined by the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, columnist Nicholas Kristoff, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. The trip and other Times-sponsored travel packages are a lucrative source of income at a time when news organizations are under increasing financial pressure. But the newspaper’s trips raise a question among journalism ethics experts about ethics and access: Is The Times effectively selling its journalists to private interests? Could, for example, corporate lobbyists or political operatives sign on and seek to influence coverage?

Federal:

Federal Ethics Chief Who Clashed with White House Announces He Will Step Down
Washington Post – Rosalind Helderman and Matea Gold | Published: 7/6/2017

Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Director Walter Shaub announced he is resigning. He will leave nearly six months before the end of his term to take a position with the Campaign Legal Center. Shaub repeatedly challenged the Trump administration on ethics issues. His outspokenness drew the ire of administration officials and earned him near-cult status among Trump’s opponents. Shaub said no one in the White House or the administration pushed him to leave, but he felt he had reached the limit of what he could achieve in this administration within the current ethics framework. The OGE’s chief of staff, Shelley Finlayson, is expected to assume the role of acting director, although Trump could appoint another senior OGE official to serve temporarily until he chooses a permanent replacement.

Florida Lobbyist Turning Trump Ties into Mega-Millions
Center for Public Integrity – Rachel Wilson | Published: 7/5/2017

Brian Ballard has long been a major lobbyist in Florida. Now, Ballard – a major Donald Trump fundraiser who also worked on the president’s transition – is out to prove he can translate his state-level lobbying success into policy victories for a slew of new clients in Washington, D.C. And he must ply his trade in the nation’s capital without looking as if he is selling access to a president who has promised to stand up to special interests. In just five months, Ballard Partners’ federal lobbying operation has generated nearly $4 million in current and contracted business from foreign and domestic lobbying clients. That is as much lobbying money as some established firms make in a year.

Justice Dept. Compliance Expert Whose Contract Ended Early Says Trump Conflicts Made Work Feel Hypocritical
Washington Post – Matt Zapotosky | Published: 7/3/2017

As a contractor for the U.S. Justice Department, Hui Chen would ask questions about companies’ inner workings to help determine whether they should be prosecuted for wrongdoing. But working in the Trump administration, Chen began to feel like a hypocrite. How could she ask companies about their conflicts-of-interest when the president was being sued over his? Though her contract was not up until September, Chen left the department in late June, then laid bare her reasons in a post on LinkedIn. The post drew attention because of Chen’s position and how blunt she was on the circumstances of her departure.

From the States and Municipalities:

Florida: Florida’s Departing Fiscal Watchdog Used Public Scrutiny as a Weapon
Bradenton Herald – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 7/5/2017

Jeff Atwater, who resigned recently as Florida’s chief financial officer, knows where every penny of the state’s $83 billion budget goes. He also knows where to find the waste, and he has tried to expose it. expose it. Florida will spend more than $60 billion this year hiring outside contractors to do state work. But, as Atwater found when he took the job in 2011, state agencies often do not hold vendors accountable for the services they agreed to provide. Agencies allow them to charge for things not included in the bids, fail to recover damages when the vendor will not complete a task correctly or on time, and renew contracts when a vendor fails. “You don’t have to go far to track that back to a lobbyist who had a client,” Atwater explained.

Kansas: Kobach: Kansas won’t give Social Security info to Kobach-led voter commission at this time
Kansas City Star – Bryan Lowry | Published: 7/1/2017

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach co-chairs President Trump’s voter fraud commission, which is tasked with finding evidence to support the president’s unsubstantiated claim that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. Kobach recently sent letters to all 50 states asking them to provide the commission with their entire voter files. The request specifically spelled out sensitive pieces of information the commission wants to obtain. As secretary of state, Kobach is tasked with supplying Kansas’s data to the Trump commission. There is just one problem: he will not be able to fully comply with his own request.

Massachusetts: Lawmakers Asked to Hit Up Lobbyists, Companies to Fund National Confab
Boston Globe – Jim O’Sullivan | Published: 6/29/2017

Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler sent an email identifying the special interests, lobbyists, and corporations that can be targeted for a solicitation appeal to help fund this summer’s National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Boston. They include companies that have business before the state Legislature: retailers, banks, telecommunications firms, insurers, utilities, and a wide range of health-care providers. Organizers hope to raise roughly $2.2 million for the meeting. The document advertises special access to the week’s events for donors, and perhaps more importantly, a chance to stay on the radar of local decision-makers.

Montana: Legislature Is Rife with Conflicts of Interest – and They’re Legal
Helena Independent Record – Jayme Fraser | Published: 7/2/2017

More than a dozen state leaders said it is not unethical to bring bills that would advantage their professions or properties so long as others received the same gain and the link is openly shared. Most lauded the fact that Montana has a part-time, citizen Legislature where farmers sit on agricultural committees, lawyers craft state criminal laws, teachers tweak education policy, and business owners set industry regulations. Experience makes them experts, they say. But the Center for Public Integrity gives Montana an “F” grade for its conflict disclosure laws, which make it difficult for the public to spot self-serving votes or sanction those who enrich themselves in public office.

New Jersey: Hudson Attorney Files Ethics Complaint Against Christie Over ‘Beachgate’
Newark Star-Ledger – Michaelangelo Conte (Jersey Journal) | Published: 7/6/2017

A complaint was filed against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, saying he used his position unethically when he and family members basked in the sun at Island Beach State Park while the public was turned away because of a state shutdown. In accordance with the Plain Language Guide to New Jersey’s Executive Branch Ethics Standards, no person of the executive branch may obtain a “special benefit” as a result of their position …,” according to the complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission by attorney Mario Blanch.

New York: A Constitutional Convention for New York? This May Be the Year
New York Times – Lisa Foderaro | Published: 7/5/2017

Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the chance to vote whether they want to hold a constitutional convention to amend, tweak, or otherwise improve the founding document of the state. For the past half-century, voters have demurred. This year, however, academics, good-government groups and others believe the outcome of the ballot question in November may be different. And it has something to do with the current occupant of the White House. “Trump’s election emphasizes how valuable it is for states to chart their own course,” said Peter Galie, a political science professor at Canisius College.

Pennsylvania: Contractor’s Criminal Record Didn’t Discourage Business with Allentown or Reading
Allentown Morning Call – Emily Opilo | Published: 6/30/2017

Mark Neisser, then president of JCA Associates, and two other employees of the engineering firm pleaded guilty in 2004 to tax offenses for failing to report about $100,000 in printing work done for New Jersey Democrats. Along with fines and probation, Neisser was barred from working at JCA. Within a year, however, he resurfaced at T&M Associates, a New Jersey engineering firm that bought out JCA. Neisser’s record apparently did not alarm Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from T&M’s PAC, and raised no red flag for city officials, which awarded more than $380,000 in contracts to the firm. Neisser pleaded guilty in April to a federal corruption charge for his role in “pay-to-play” schemes in Allentown and Reading.

Texas: City OK’s Park Swings Thanks to Pint Sized Lobbyist
Fort Worth Telegram – Ann Beck | Published: 7/6/2017

When she saw that her local park did not have swings, six-year-old Maggie Fortner took matters into her own hands. She wrote a letter – in pencil and folded a half-dozen times – requesting the addition of a swing set at Donald R. Barg Park. It was mailed by Maggie’s grandmother and made its way to Matt Young, the director of parks and recreation for the city of Mansfield, who not only took notice, but action. The swings were approved and Maggie, now seven, was the guest of honor at the recent ceremony where they were opened to the public. “I’m just really excited for my swing to come, so I can swing on it every day,” Maggie said. “But I’m going to share, even with my sisters. It’s for everyone.”

Texas: Texas Supreme Court Rejects Tea Party Challenge to Campaign Finance Laws
Texas Tribune – Jim Malewitz | Published: 6/30/2017

The Texas Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on direct corporate political donations. The Texas Democratic Party sued the King Street Patriots for violating the ban on corporate contributions by making in-kind donations to Republicans groups or causes. Democrats argued that if the group wanted to contribute to political campaigns, it should abide by disclosure rules. The justices also upheld state requirements that campaigns report contributions and expenditures, and ruled private groups can sue over alleged violations.

Vermont: Dollars Tell Only Part of Story of Pot Legalization Advocacy
VTDigger.org – Elizabeth Hewitt | Published: 7/4/2017

Despite a constant drum of advocacy on both sides of marijuana legalization in Vermont this year, lobbying reports show the sums spent were relatively modest. But the finance disclosures tell just part of the story of advocacy on the issue. The numbers on both sides added up to far less than has been spent on hot button issues in Montpelier in the past. The 2015 push to impose a sales tax on soft drinks drew more than $500,000 in spending by the American Beverage Association alone in the first quarter of the year, for instance. On the issue of marijuana, both sides claim grassroots support drives their agenda.

 

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.