News You Can Use Digest – March 10, 2017

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

‘Big Candy’ Is Lobbying the Trump Administration. It’s Also Holding Events at Trump Hotels.
Washington Post – Amy Brittain and Jonathan O’Connell | Published: 3/7/2017

The National Confectioners Association, which represents Hershey, Mars, and Jelly Belly, among other companies, is doing a lot of business with President Trump’s company. In addition to its gathering of 600 attendees for an industry conference at the Trump National Doral resort near Miami, the group has booked two upcoming meetings, in September and again in 2018, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the organization is optimistic about scoring policy wins from the Trump administration. The matter illustrates a repercussion of Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his business during his time in the White House, that he can become financially intertwined with a special interest that is simultaneously seeking to influence policy decisions by his administration.

Ethics Questions Dogged Agriculture Nominee as Georgia Governor
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Steve Eder | Published: 3/7/2017

Sonny Perdue, who is awaiting confirmation to serve as President Trump’s agriculture secretary, became a target of frequent criticism that he was failing to honor his ethics pledge to reform state government during his eight years as Georgia governor. The criticism centers on the fact that, as Trump has, he continued to own or help run his family business ventures – four farming-related companies – while serving as governor. His confirmation is on hold as the Office of Government Ethics office must examine Perdue’s proposal to avoid conflicts while running the department, which may include selling off some of his farming assets. Before his tenure as governor ended in 2011, 13 complaints had been filed against Perdue with Georgia’s ethics commission, which on two occasions ruled he violated state ethics laws.

Iraq’s Lobbyists Mobilized after Travel Ban, Documents Reveal
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 3/7/2017

Lobbyists for the Iraqi government were in contact with Trump administration officials and lawmakers ahead of the decision to remove the country from the travel ban. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law and lobby firm, sent letters to senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, requesting the officials meet with Iraq’s new ambassador, Fareed Yasseen, and Naufel Alhassan, the deputy chief of staff to Iraq’s prime minister. The letters came about two weeks after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arkansas – Ex-Arkansas Senator Indicted by U.S.; 2 Others Accused in Kickbacks Case
Arkansas Online – Doug Thompson | Published: 3/3/2017

Former Arkansas Sen. Jon Woods and two others were named in a federal indictment alleging corruption involving state funds intended for economic development in a case in which another former state lawmaker has already pleaded guilty. Woods of Springdale is charged with mail and wire fraud in the 13-count indictment that also names Oren Paris III and Randell Shelton, Jr. The indictment alleges Woods and former Rep. Micah Neal directed the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state’s general improvement fund that is intended for economic development to specific, unnamed entities. Neal pleaded guilty in January to arranging kickbacks with a then-unnamed former state senator. Neal said he received $38,000 from funds awarded to two entities by the district.

California – California Lawmakers Report Accepting $518,000 in Gifts, Including Travel and Expensive Meals
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy, Melanie Mason, and Chris Megerian | Published: 3/2/2017

Three years after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have severely restricted gifts to public officials – limiting their value to $200 per giver, and banning amusement park and sports tickets – veteran lawmakers continue to rake in such gifts, many from special interest groups seeking favors from state government. The flood of 2,312 gifts totaling $518,000 to 114 lawmakers is troubling to former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who tried unsuccessfully four times to pass a bill that would have prohibited gifts from interests that employ lobbyists. “I believe these gifts are corrosive to the public trust and create an appearance of an unhealthy intimacy between legislators and moneyed interests,” said Blakeslee.

Colorado – Denver Council Approves New Ethics Rules, Including $300 Gift Limit
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 3/6/2017

The Denver City Council adopted a series of changes to the ethics code that, for the first time, puts a monetary cap on the value of meals and event tickets council members and other city officials can accept from people over whom they have decision-making authority. That cap replaces a loose four-item limit that does not set a maximum value. Critics argued it was vulnerable to abuse. The new ordinance also creates an independent body to establish the list of people who are eligible to be appointed to the Denver Board of Ethics. It also expands the list of family members in the conflict-of-interest rules who cannot benefit from contracts or official action, among other provisions.

Maryland – Former Md. Del. Michael Vaughn Charged with Selling His Vote in Bribery Scheme
Washington Post – Linh Bui | Published: 3/8/2017

A federal grand jury indicted Former Maryland Del. Michael Vaughn on charges he took bribes to support a liquor license bill in the General Assembly and misused his campaign finance account. Vaughn is accused of accepting more than $10,000 in cash bribes from liquor store owners in exchange for his support of a 2015 bill that allowed some businesses in Prince George’s County to sell liquor on Sundays. With that bill passed, authorities say Vaughn worked during the 2016 session to block legislation that would have created more licenses to protect the liquor store owners. The indictment also alleges Vaughn siphoned money from his campaign account and used it for his personal benefit. He allegedly filed fraudulent campaign finance reports to cover up how he was using the money.

Massachusetts – Healey Hands Thornton Law Case to Independent Prosecutor
Boston Globe – Andrea Estes | Published: 3/4/2017

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will appoint a special prosecutor and recuse herself from any investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Boston’s Thornton Law Firm, whose lawyers donated to her political campaign. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance said it has evidence the firm, a major Democratic funder, illegally reimbursed the firm’s partners and their spouses for up to $175,000 in campaign contributions. Thornton officials have said they did nothing wrong and the reimbursements, termed “bonuses” in the firm’s payroll records, were not really bonuses at all, but the partners’ own money, taken out of each’s equity in the firm.

New Jersey – David Samson Avoids Jail in United Airlines Bribery Scandal
NJ.com – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/6/2017

David Samson, a former attorney general of New Jersey and longtime friend of Gov. Chris Christie, avoided prison time during his sentencing for pressuring executives of United Airlines into operating a weekly flight to South Carolina for his personal convenience. Instead, he was ordered to serve one year of home confinement. Samson had pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he had used his power as chairperson of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to coerce United into running the route even though it was not profitable. He had threatened to block the construction of a hangar that United needed at Newark Liberty International Airport if the airline did not provide the service. The route ended in Columbia, near one of Samson’s homes.

Ohio – Special Report: Politicians allowed freebies, favors under Ohio ethics laws
Dayton Daily News – Laura Bischoff | Published: 3/2/2017

Ohio’s ethics laws, which date to the Watergate scandal, exist to hold those in government accountable. The law covers 590,000 people, including 10,300 key officials who must file annual financial disclosure statements. State Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said Ohio has a track record for enforcement that is equaled by only a handful of other states. Ohio is not shy about who it goes after either: the list of public officials who have been caught violating ethics laws includes then-Gov. Bob Taft. Others say the laws themselves keep government clean and its officials honest. But a Dayton Daily News investigation found loopholes in Ohio’s system for policing unethical activity.

Tennessee – Exclusive: Jeremy Durham may face $7 million in state penalties
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert | Published: 3/8/2017

Former Rep. Jeremy Durham may face almost $7 million or more in state fines as a result of at least 690 violations of Tennessee’s campaign finance law. The information, contained in a “show cause” notice issued by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, also provides for the first time the names of prominent campaign donors and business owners who gave Durham thousands of dollars that the former lawmaker never reported on his campaign disclosures. The report also details nearly $76,000 in improperly disclosed campaign expenditures, on everything from Florida restaurants and airplane tickets to flowers and a Yankee Candle purchase. Among these findings are many of the more than $10,000 in illegal purchases Durham made that were included in a state audit.

Utah – Complaints Accuse Utah Lawmaker of Bullying, Berating School Officials in Front of Students
Salt Lake Tribune – Benjamin Wood | Published: 3/7/2017

Students who visit the Capitol during the legislative session get a civics lesson on state history and government, and, for at least one group of Utah County fifth-graders, a front-row view to rancorous politics. That is what Jenna Wood described in a letter to Senate President Wayne Niederhauser after witnessing an “agitated” Sen. Howard Stephenson threatening to sue Alpine School District administrators during a confrontation in the Capitol Rotunda with several of her daughter’s Foothill Elementary School classmates nearby. In a separate letter, Alpine Superintendent Sam Jarman complained about the incident and alluded to other confrontations with Stephenson, noting the most recent meeting was notable for occurring in a public place.

Utah – Jury Acquits John Swallow of All Charges
Deseret News – Dennis Romboy and McKenzie Romero | Published: 3/2/2017

Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow was acquitted of bribery and evidence tampering charges in one of the highest-profile scandals in state history. Jurors found Swallow not guilty of nine counts that also included obstruction of justice, falsifying government documents, and misuse of public funds. He had faced one to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors accused Swallow of hanging a virtual “for sale” sign on the door to the state’s top law enforcement office by taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations from fraudsters and businesspeople in exchange for favorable treatment. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said it was a complex case where jurors were asked to consider matters that were not black and white but “various shades of gray.”

Washington – Ferguson Delivers the Laundry Bill: Grocery Manufacturers told to pay $1.1 million
Seattle Post-Intelligencer – Joel Connelly | Published: 3/1/2017

A Thurston County Superior Court judge ordered the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to pay $1.1 million in legal fees after it violated Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws. Those fees are on top of the $18 million in fines the food industry trade group was ordered to pay in November. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the GMA in 2013, claiming it failed to register and report its political committee that opposed voter Initiative 522. The initiative would have required labeling of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in food sold to consumers. Judge Anne Hirsch said the group “intentionally violated” state disclosure laws in its efforts to oppose the initiative.

 

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