News You Can Use Digest – May 12, 2017

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

Silicon Valley Tech Lobbyists Swarm Brussels
Politico.eu – Harry Cooper and Nicholas Hirst | Published: 5/4/2017

A new report shows spending on European Union lobbying by Google, Facebook, Apple, and other technology companies has increased by up to 278 percent between 2014 and 2017, and four out of seven lobbyists currently accredited with the European Parliament have been hired directly from the Parliament to lobby their former colleagues. Transparency International says that major Silicon Valley companies have been lobbying in Brussels for years, but the budget for lobbying has increased in recent years, as Brussels tries to tackle tax avoidance schemes, data protection, and privacy issues.

Federal:

Inside Trump’s Anger and Impatience – and His Sudden Decision to Fire Comey
Washington Post – Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz, and Robert Costa | Published: 5/10/2017

The stated rationale for President Trump’s firing FBI Director James Comey’s delivered by White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was that Comey had committed “atrocities” in overseeing the agency’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, hurting morale in the bureau and compromising public trust. But the private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI, and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans, paint a conflicting narrative centered on the president’s brewing personal animus toward Comey.

Kushner Family Stands to Gain from Visa Rules in Trump’s First Major Law
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Jesse Drucker | Published: 5/8/2017

A bill President Trump signed into law renews a program offering permanent residence in the U.S. to affluent foreigners investing money in real estate projects in the country. Just hours after the measure was signed, the company run until January by Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, was urging wealthy Chinese in Beijing to consider investing $500,000 each in a pair of Jersey City luxury apartment towers the family-owned Kushner Companies plans to build. Kushner was even cited at a marketing presentation by his sister Nicole Meyer. The sequence of events offers one of the most explicit examples of the peril of the Trump and Kushner families maintaining close ties to their business interests and creates an impression they stand to profit off Trump’s presence in the White House.

Why the IRS Puts White-Nationalist Groups in the Same Category as Orchestras, Planetariums and Zoos
Washington Post – Max Ehrenfreund | Published: 5/10/2017

Four organizations associated with white nationalism – the National Policy Institute, the New Century Foundation, the Charles Martel Society and VDare Foundation – have raised $7.8 million in tax-free donations over the last decade. White nationalist groups qualify for tax-exempt status because they have successfully argued they have an “educational” mission. A proposal would force them to start paying taxes by removing the provision they rely on for their tax exemption, a broad rule that benefits organizations that sponsor lectures, conferences, and public discussions. But even groups that condemn white nationalists’ messages are hesitant about plans to take away their tax-exempt status.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Months After It Was Exposed, Phoenix Hasn’t Fixed Toothless Lobbying Law
Arizona Republic – Dustin Gardiner and Rob O’Dell | Published: 5/8/2017

More than three months after Phoenix realized it could not enforce its regulations for lobbyists seeking to influence decisions at City Hall, the problem has yet to be fixed. The rules could get some bite under a set of proposals the city council will debate, but one option under consideration would weaken them even further. Lobbyists who do not register or report meals, gifts, or other expenses made on behalf of elected officials currently face no penalties for breaking the lobbying law by not disclosing their activity. Some city leaders and a watchdog say the delay in making the rules enforceable erodes public confidence.

California – California Politicians Stole Their Money. Will That Make Them Care About Democracy?
Sacramento Bee – Alex Koseff | Published: 5/7/2017

Political scandals are almost dishearteningly pervasive in southeast Los Angeles County. Too many officials have violated the public trust in the area’s small- and medium-sized cities, which are working class and heavily immigrant. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, whose district is at the heart of the most recent troubles, dubs it the “corridor of corruption,” as five cities have sent more than a dozen city officials to jail or prison in the last 11 years. Tired of a reputation shaped by shortcomings, Rendon is one of a new group of representatives forged by the scandals who hope to shed the negative image that has plagued the area.

California – Foes into Friends: Lobbyists make amends to lawmakers with ‘make-up money’
CALmatters.org – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 5/10/2017

In California, “make-up money” refers to the contributions that flow to newly-elected officials from interest groups that backed a losing candidate during the campaign. There is nothing illegal about giving these donations to a politician, said Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Political contributions break the law only when they involve a direct exchange of money for governmental action. But giving money to the winner of an election after backing an opponent shows that donors are looking to curry favor with whomever has the power to make decisions, Levinson said.

 

Florida – When That Feisty Neighbor Becomes the President
New York Times – Michael LaForgia and Steve Eder | Published: 5/6/2017

For local officials in Palm Beach County, it was one thing to spar with Donald Trump, the developer, over issues with his private club, Mar-a-Lago. But dealing with President Trump is another matter entirely. Since he was elected, local officials have quickly granted Trump’s club permission to build a concrete helipad, allowed it to host a charity event for the Navy SEAL Foundation featuring a staged shootout between some commandos and pretend terrorists, and agreed to assume the costs, for now at least, of closing roads and providing additional security. Behind every decision was a balancing act between a desire to best serve constituents and a political instinct not to anger the nation’s chief executive.

Illinois – Ethics Board Rejects Watchdog Recommendation That City Officials Report Lobbying
Chicago Tribune – Hal Dardick | Published: 5/9/2017

Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics has been flexing its muscle against lobbyists who emailed Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the mayor’s private accounts and failed either to register or report their lobbying activities. But the hefty fines are apparently not enough to satisfy city Inspector General Joe Ferguson. The law puts the onus on lobbyists, not city officials, to report contact. Last year, the inspector general’s office recommended making changes to improve compliance with the law, including the possibility of having city officials report lobbying interactions. The inspector general’s office released a follow-up report recently in which it said the ethics board rejected that recommendation.

Missouri – Judge Strikes Parts of Missouri Campaign Finance Law
Courthouse News Service – Dionne Cordell-Whitney | Published: 5/10/2017

Parts of Missouri’s new campaign finance law are unconstitutional, but the $2,600 individual donor limit will stay, U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie Smith ruled. But in striking down a provision in the law that banned committee-to-committee transfers, it has opened up the ability to raise an unlimited amount of money through a local PAC and transfer that cash to a different PAC. Critics say that will make campaign money harder to track and makes it easier for candidates to get around the individual donor limit.

New Hampshire – Lawmaker Behind Misogynistic Forum: ‘I’ve never hated women’
U.S. News & World Report – Kathleen Ronayne (Associated Press) | Published: 5/9/2017

About a dozen state representatives and voters urged lawmakers to take action against New Hampshire Rep. Robert Fisher, warning that his involvement in a misogynistic online forum feeds into a derogatory culture toward women and may promote abuse. Fisher has been under fire since it was reported he was behind a men’s rights forum known for its comments degrading women, questioning female intelligence, and denying rape. Fisher said he does not “hate women” and denied a new report that he still oversees the Reddit forum, known as “The Red Pill.”

New York – Murky Definitions for Government Entities Undermines Transparency
Gotham Gazette – Rachel Silberstein | Published: 5/3/2017

There is a multitude of quasi-governmental entities that exist in grey area of New York law, and how to classify these entities has been the subject of some debate. A rudimentary search pulled up at least a dozen different definitions for “state agency” and “local agency” in state law. While some rely to some degree on government funding, have board members appointed by city or state officials, and may serve a public function, as independent 501(c)(3) nonprofits, one could argue these entities do not qualify as a public authority or public benefit corporation. But like more typical government agencies, they are subject to Freedom of Information Laws. Government reformers say this ever-morphing patchwork of definitions only serves to confuse the public and obscure conflicts of interests, rather than increase transparency.

Ohio – Nelson Mullins Partner Settles with SEC in Pay-to-Play Suit
American Lawyer – Scott Flaherty | Published: 5/3/2017

Robert Crowe agreed to settle civil allegations brought by federal regulators in a “pay-to-play” scheme involving State Street Bank. Crowe was a lobbyist for Boston-based State Street when he became embroiled in the scheme of a former State Street employee to raise campaign contributions for a deputy treasurer in Ohio. The former employee had made a deal to provide campaign funding in exchange for business contracts for State Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged. Crowe allegedly filtered $16,000 through his personal bank account to reimburse others for making contributions to the deputy treasurer. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Crowe agreed to a federal judge’s order to pay nearly $95,000 in penalties.

Washington – Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Won’t Seek Second Term: ‘It tears me to pieces to step away’
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman | Published: 5/9/2017

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he will not run for re-election, as he fights claims he sexually abused teenage boys in the 1980s. Murray, who was expected to win the upcoming mayoral race, dropped out days before the official filing deadline. In April, a man filed a lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him in 1986, when he was a homeless 15-year-old boy. Three other men have since come forward to accuse Murray of abuse, including paying for sex with them while they were minors. Murray said the allegations against him “are not true. The scandal surrounding them hurts me and this city.”

West Virginia – W. Va. Reporter Arrested for ‘Yelling Questions’ at HHS Secretary
USA Today – Doug Stanglin | Published: 5/9/2017

Tom Price during his visit to West Virginia. The exchange came as Price and senior white House aide KellyAnne Conway visited the Capitol to learn about efforts to fight opioid addiction in a state that has the nation’s highest overdose death rate. A criminal complaint says Daniel Heyman was yelling questions at the two. It says he tried to breach Secret Service security and had to be removed from a hallway at the Capitol. He was charged with willful disruption of governmental processes. Heyman, who works for Public News Service, said he was arrested after asking repeatedly whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the proposed health care overhaul. He said he believed he was doing nothing wrong.

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.