News You Can Use Digest – March 3, 2017

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

Companies Lobbying Government Keep Spending Secret from Shareholders: Report
International Business Times – David Sirota | Published: 3/1/2017

A new report finds just 12 percent of publicly traded corporations in the S&P 500 disclose their lobbying expenditures to shareholders. Investors have increasingly called for corporate disclosure of both campaign contributions and lobbying. Some 90 percent of S&P 500 companies have board level policies regarding campaign contributions, compared to the 25 percent that have policies on lobbying. But those policies largely apply to the federal government. The study found disclosure at the state level is sparse. Five percent of S&P 500 corporations reveal which states they lobby in and two percent reveal aggregate lobbying costs.

Republican Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Curb Protesting in at Least 17 States
Washington Post – Christopher Ingraham | Published: 2/24/2017

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, Republican lawmakers in at least 17 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.” From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Federal:

Barring Reporters from Briefings: Does it cross a legal line?
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 2/28/2017

The White House blocked a number of media outlets from entering Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s office for a scheduled briefing, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps. Aides to Spicer allowed in reporters from only a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed to attend. Organizations allowed in included Breitbart News, the One America News Network, and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press, who were set to be allowed in to the briefing, chose not to attend in protest. The White House move came hours after Trump delivered a slashing broadside against the news media in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Sessions Met with Russian Envoy Twice Last Year, Encounters He Later Did Not Disclose
Washington Post – Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller | Published: 3/1/2017

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year, raising new questions about contact between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin. Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, did not disclose the contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearings, testifying under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” The contacts are coming under scrutiny because Sessions endorsed Donald Trump early in his presidential bid. A spokesperson for Sessions confirmed the contact with Kislyak, saying the attorney general spoke on the phone with the ambassador in September. That conversation took place during the time when intelligence officials assert that Russia was interfering with the U.S. presidential election through a hacking and influence campaign.

Supreme Court Backs FEC Disclosure Rules
Bloomberg BNA – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 2/28/2017

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a requirement that forces groups to say who is paying for issue advertising directed at candidates in an approaching election. The justices affirmed a lower court decision in a case involving ads that mention candidates but do not call for the election or defeat of one. The Supreme Court has generally upheld disclosure requirements even as it has struck down limits on raising and spending money in political campaigns.

Trump Inspires Encryption Boom in Leaky D.C.
Politico – Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook | Published: 2/27/2017

In a capital worried about leaked information, many people are scrambling to cover their digital tracks. More than 70 workers from several federal agencies are using encrypted cellphone apps to arrange nighttime and weekend meetings at homes in the Washington, D.C. area to discuss their potential resistance to President Trump, said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. The surge in the use of scrambled-communication technology – enabled by free smartphone apps such as WhatsApp and Signal – could skirt or violate laws that require government records to be preserved and the public’s business to be conducted in official channels. Defenders of federal workers argue that interest in encryption has skyrocketed as career employees ponder how to respond to an administration they fear will break the law and punish dissent.

Who’s Watching Trump’s Ethics Watchdogs?
Politico – Darren Samuelsohn | Published: 2/25/2017

The lawyers tasked with policing Donald Trump’s potential conflicts-of-interest are grappling with an oversight system that is disjointed and ineffective. More than two dozen attorneys working inside and outside government have a part of Trump’s ethics portfolio, but no one individual has visibility into the full picture. The set up means that in some cases the lawyers are overlapping while other areas of potential conflict go uncovered entirely. Perhaps a bigger issue for the watchdog effort is that the lawyers who have the job of safeguarding either the White House or the president and his family business do not see the conflict issues as deserving the significant attention they have received since Trump’s election win last November.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Arizona House Passes Bills to Restrict Citizen Initiatives
Arizona Republic – Mary Jo Pitzl | Published: 2/23/2017

In an attempt to gain control over laws proposed by citizens, the state House approved a package of bills designed to rein in the century-old initiative process enshrined in the Arizona Constitution at statehood. Opponents say the moves would undercut the power of the people to shape laws, and run counter to the citizen initiative process, while proponents argue lawmakers need the flexibility to fix unforeseen problems that might arise from a ballot measure. The measures now move to the Senate for consideration.

California – Regulators Investigating SDG&E for Potential Lobbying Violations
San Diego Union-Tribune – Joshua Emerson Smith | Published: 2/23/2017

State regulators said they are investigating San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) efforts to influence the local adoption of government-run electricity programs, saying the company does not have permission to do so yet. Officials with SDG&E and its parent company, Sempra Energy, said the California Public Utilities Commission cleared their specially designated marketing division to lobby on community choice aggregation (CCA), a program that would give residents and businesses an alternative to SDG&E. After publicly lobbying on CCA before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, officials with the SDG&E marketing arm, Sempra Services Corporation, said they have been meeting with lawmakers countywide on this issue. This lobbying caught the attention of the commission’s regulators. They said they are looking into the matter and violations could be subject to fines as high as $50,000 for each offense.

Colorado – How the Charities on Your Colorado Tax Form Used Connections, Money and Legislation to Earn the Coveted ‘Godsend’
Denver Post – Brian Eason | Published: 2/27/2017

Colorado’s charitable checkoff program became the nation’s first in 1977 and the state touts itself as a national leader for tax-season giving. The donations are collected when residents offer to donate portions of their tax refund or make contributions above the amount owed by filling out a supplemental form. But the official seal of approval by appearing on the form obscures uncomfortable realities. Most of the organizations receive no state oversight and won a spot with political clout. For groups that appear on the form, Sen. Lois Court said, “frequently it’s because there is a lobbyist available to help – that kind of knocks out those who can’t afford lobbyists.”

Florida – Rubio Is Asked to Leave Tampa Office Over Disruption from Weekly Protests
Tampa Bay Times – Tony Marrero | Published: 2/28/2017

The owner of Bridgeport Center has notified U.S. Mario Rubio’s office that it will not renew its lease in the Tampa office building. The reason is that demonstrations have become too disruptive to the other tenants and a costly expense for America’s Capital Partners, the building’s owner. A variety of progressive groups who oppose President Trump’s agenda have gathered at least once a week at the building, lining up on the sidewalk to wave signs and shout messages. Rubio’s seven statewide offices have been lightning rods for demonstrations. Gatherings in front of the Tampa office have surpassed 150 people.

Florida – Senator Seeks Probe into Whether Lobbyist Lisa Miller Posed as ‘Concerned Citizen’ During Call
Florida Today – Michael Malone | Published: 2/24/2017

State Sen. Kevin Rader is asking Gov. Rick Scott to investigate whether lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as a “concerned citizen” to mislead participants in a conference call with a company that rates Florida insurers. Miller has denied posing as someone named Mary Beth Wilson to praise Demotech, Inc. during the call. Demotech held the call to explain a change in its rating system and discuss the downgrade of some Florida insurance companies. Jeff Grady, president of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, first reported on his blog that “most industry professionals” believed the caller was Miller, of Lisa Miller & Associates. He did not name her, but posted a link to her lobbyist registration page, which identifies her as representing Demotech, among other clients.

Illinois – Six More Lobbyists Face Fines for Using Emanuel’s Private Emails
Chicago Sun-Times – Fran Spielman | Published: 2/27/2017

After hitting former Uber executive David Plouffe with a record $90,000 fine for emailing Mayor Rahm Emanuel without registering as a lobbyist, the Chicago Board of Ethics issued probable cause letters to five more unregistered lobbyists and the companies they represent. A sixth letter was issued to a registered lobbyist accused of failing to report a contact, as required by law. Ethics board Chairperson William Conlon did not identify the six lobbyists in question or their companies. He would only say the maximum fines are “substantial” and the names would be released after the accused have an opportunity to respond and exercise their right to an administrative hearing. Other sources said all six individuals had lobbied Emanuel through the private email accounts the mayor used to conduct public business.

Minnesota – For Local Officials with Family Ties, Transparency Counts
Minnesota Public Radio – Brandt Williams | Published: 2/24/2017

Minneapolis City Council member and mayoral hopeful Jacob Frey got married last July, and his wife is a lobbyist. Sarah Clarke works for Hylden Advocacy and Law, which lobbies state and local governments, including Minneapolis. governments, including Minneapolis. In March of last year, the firm represented an industry group which opposed a proposed prohibition on plastic carry-out bags. Frey was one of 10 council members who voted to approve the ban. But Frey initially neglected to note his wife’s employment on a form he and other Minneapolis elected officials have to file every January. The so-called statement of economic interest form requires city officials to disclose any outside sources of compensation, along with that of their spouses or domestic partners.

New Jersey – A $500 Contribution to Republicans Costs Paving Company $7M
NJ.com – Dave Hutchinson (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 2/27/2017

A court upheld the decisions of two New Jersey agencies to rescind two contracts totaling about $7 million to a paving business and ban the company from any state contracts through the remainder of Gov. Chris Christie’s second term because of its $500 contribution to Somerset County Republicans. The court found that the donation disqualified Della Pello Paving from receiving state contracts under the state’s “pay-to-play” law, which bars state contracts exceeding $17,500 to a business that contributed more than $300 during the preceding 18 months to the governor, a candidate for governor, or any state or county political party committee.

 

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.