News You Can Use Digest – May 5, 2017

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

Guns and Religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia
Washington Post – Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger | Published: 4/30/2017

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right. On issues including gun rights, terrorism, and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally. The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hardline views of Russia.

Federal:

Code Pink Protesters at Sessions Hearing Could Face Year in Prison
New York Times – Christopher Mele | Published: 5/3/2017

A jury convicted three Code Pink activists for disrupting Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to be attorney general, including one who apparently laughed during the hearing. Desiree Fairooz, who dressed up as a pink version of Lady Liberty, was found guilty on charges of parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds and disorderly conduct. Two other activists, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, were acquitted on a count of disorderly conduct but were convicted on two separate charges of parading or demonstrating during the hearing. Both men dressed up as Ku Klux Klan members, wearing white hooded robes, and stood up before the hearing started. All three could face up to a year in prison.

Lewandowski’s Firm Appears to Offer Trump Meetings
Politico – Kenneth Voogel and Josh Dawsey | Published: 4/28/2017

A firm co-founded by Donald Trump’s original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and senior members of their administration. The previously unreported firm, Washington East West Political Strategies, was created by Lewandowski and fellow Trump campaign veteran Barry Bennett, as well as an Azerbaijani oil executive and an American political consultant who works extensively in Russia, to prospect for political business in Eastern Europe. And Lewandowski and Bennett have created different firms with other partners to prospect in the Middle East, Canada, and Central America, Bennett said.

Top Ethics Officer Challenges Trump Over Secret Waivers for Ex-Lobbyists
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 5/1/2017

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) sent a letter to the White House and all executive branch agency heads asking for copies of any waivers the Trump administration may have granted to appointees exempting them from ethics rules.  The OGE’s director, Walter Shaub, said the Obama administration similarly granted waivers, but the prior administration’s waivers were given “under a narrow set of circumstances” and were posted publicly on the OGE’s website. The New York Times has reported that in at least two instances, the Trump administration “secretly issued” waivers exempting officials from ethics rules.

Trump Transition Staffers Head to K Street Despite Lobbying Ban
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Michael Stratford | Published: 5/3/2017

Donald Trump barred people who worked on his transition from lobbying for six months afterward, but at least nine people who worked on transition have registered as lobbyists. Many are registered to lobby the same agencies or on the same issues they worked on during the transition. Because of the way the six-month lobbying ban was worded, the former staffers may not be violating it. Regardless, their trips from lobbying to government service and back run counter to Trump’s campaign promise to close Washington’s “revolving door.” They also raise questions about how rigorously the White House will enforce a separate five-year lobbying ban that applies to those serving in the administration.

While in White House, Trumps Remained Selling Points for ‘Very Special’ Philippines Project
Washington Post – Drew Harwell and Matea Gold | Published: 5/2/2017

Four months into President Trump’s tenure, his business relationship with a developer who is one of the Philippines’ richest and most powerful men has emerged as a prime example of the collision between the private interests of a businessperson in the White House and his public responsibility to shape U.S. foreign policy. The potential conflict first came into focus shortly before Trump was elected, when the Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, named the Trump Organization’s partner on a Manila real estate venture as his top trade envoy. Although promotional videos for Trump Tower in the Philippines were posted online in 2013, the continued presence of the president and his daughter, Ivanka, in marketing materials for the reflects the extent to which they remain key selling points even as they have vowed to distance themselves from their global real estate and branding businesses.

From the States and Municipalities:

Colorado – Colorado Supreme Court Hears Dispute on Whether Legal Fees Count as Political Donations
Denver Post – Tom McGhee | Published: 5/2/2017

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could decide whether free, or reduced-cost, legal services provided to political groups should be considered contributions under the state’s campaign finance law. In a case stemming from the 2012 University of Colorado Board of Regents race, the Court of Appeals ruled legal services must be treated like political contributions, which limit the amount a single donor can give. The high court has stayed that ruling to allow time for justices to hear the case.

Massachusetts – Regulator Sees ‘Evidence of Violations’ at Thornton Law Firm
Boston Globe – Andrea Estes | Published: 4/29/2017

State regulators are recommending that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey open a criminal investigation of nine lawyers at Boston’s Thornton Law Firm as well as seven of their spouses, concluding the firm’s longtime practice of reimbursing lawyers for political contributions may have broken multiple laws. Michael Sullivan, director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said in a letter to Healey his office had concluded there is “evidence of violations” of campaign finance laws that require political contributions be made in the name of the actual donor. He said the firm as well as 16 individuals may have broken the law. Sullivan’s letter marked the first time that state officials sought criminal prosecution in a “straw donor” case.

Minnesota – Allegations Against Dai Thao Campaign Reveal Law’s Complexity
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Jessie Van Berkel and Eric Roper | Published: 5/2/2017

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will investigate allegations of a failed bribery solicitation by St. Paul City Councilperson Dai Thao. Media reports indicated Thao, who is running for mayor, pressured a lobbyist for “resources” before a council vote and his campaign manager later texted the lobbyist to say a campaign donation might get him to “rethink this issue.” Lobbyist Sarah Clarke rejected the offer, citing state bribery statutes. Minnesota law prohibits a public officer or employee from requesting benefits or reward with the understanding that it will influence their power or duties. In the past five years, however, only one public official or employee was convicted under the law.

Missouri – Missouri Governor to Pay Fee for Using Nonprofit Donor List
U.S. News & World Report – David Lieb (Associated Press) | Published: 4/29/2017

Gov. Eric Greitens was fined $1,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission for violating the state’s campaign finance law. Greitens failed to disclose last year that his campaign obtained a donor list from The Mission Continues, a nonprofit he founded in 2007. Federal law prohibits charities like The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates. The IRS has ruled charities cannot give donor lists to politicians but can rent them at fair market value if made available to all candidates. The ethics panel said Greitens’ campaign should have disclosed receiving the donor list as an in-kind contribution from his campaign manager, Daniel Laub.

New York – City Pays for Mets Moment, Guided by Firm with Troubled Ties to de Blasio
New York Times – J. David Goodman | Published: 4/30/2017

Several hundred city workers, tourists, and passers-by gathered near the steps of City Hall as Mayor Dill de Blasio again marked the New York Mets’ 1986 World Series victory. The event offered Dwight Gooden, the former Mets pitcher whose battles with drug addiction caused him to miss the original festivities, a chance to relive the moment. The city paid for the event, which had been conceived as a scene for a television series in development, produced by the sports radio host Amy Heart. So how did Ms. Heart get the city not only to pay for the backdrop of a scene in a television pilot but also have the mayor take part? By enlisting the influential lobbying firm of James Capalino, a friend and longtime donor to de Blasio whose business skyrocketed with the mayor’s election.

South Dakota – South Dakota Ethics Bill Lost Teeth on Its Way to Becoming Law
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – Dana Ferguson | Published: 4/27/2017

Four retired judges will be appointed in the coming months to the new government accountability board, forming the nearest thing to a state ethics board that South Dakota has had in nearly four decades. Once convened, the panel will exist as a place for South Dakotans to bring concerns about government fraud, conflicts-of-interest, and other potential wrongdoing. The compromise bill creating the board cleared the Legislature in the wake of protests over lawmakers’ repeal of a major ethics and campaign finance law approved by voters in November. Critics said the new accountability board is at best a tepid step in the right direction and at worst a symbolic move to give lawmakers cover from criticism following the repeal of Initiated Measure 22.

Tennessee – Jeremy Durham Dismisses Campaign Finance Audit, Points Finger in Fiery Letter
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert | Published: 5/3/2017

Former Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Durham offered justifications for his actions in response to 690 possible campaign law violations leveled by election ethics officials. While denying essentially any wrongdoing, the 235-page response presented to state election finance officials points the finger at legislators, overly broad state laws, and human error. The allegations against Durham range from using campaign funds to improperly buy sunglasses, suits, and spa products to inappropriately loaning thousands of dollars to his wife, a prominent fundraiser, and a professional gambler.

Texas – How the Federal Case Against John Wiley Price Fell Apart
Dallas News – Jennifer Emily, Gromer Jeffers Jr., and Kevin Krause | Published: 4/28/2017

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was found not guilty of bribery and six other counts by a federal jury that considered whether he was abusing his public office to collect about $1 million in secret profits over a decade. The jury deadlocked on four tax-related counts and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. Price is likely the most well-known politician to ever be prosecuted by the federal government in Dallas. His confrontational style and focus on the issues of race and economic equality have made him a controversial figure, but his constituents have re-elected him for three decades. The acquittal is a surprising defeat for the U.S. Justice Department and FBI, who have spent a decade investigating and prosecuting Price.

Vermont – House Passes Ethics Commission Bill with Some Reluctance
VTDigger.org – Mark Johnson | Published: 5/2/2017

The Vermont House passed a bill creating a state ethics commission, overcoming objections about a requirement that lawmakers disclose their spouses’ sources of income. The legislation also prevents lawmakers from becoming lobbyists within a year of leaving their seats, and restricts holders of no-bid state contracts of $50,000 or more from making campaign contributions to certain candidates. A conference committee will have to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions before the legislation goes to Gov. Phil Scott.

 

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.