News You Can Use Digest – November 17, 2017

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

Despite Recent Wins for Democrats, Gerrymanders Dim Hopes for 2018
New York Times – Alexander Burns, Michael Wines, and Trip Gabriel | Published: 11/12/2017

For all the Democrats’ optimism, the elections in Virginia vividly reflected why the reality might be a good deal harsher. While Democrats won the governorship by nearly nine percentage points and won a similar margin in total votes in legislative races, it appears likely, unless recounts reverse seats, that they will fall just short of taking control of the state’s heavily gerrymandered House. And around the country, gerrymandering, refined to a high art, and increasingly restrictive voting laws have left many experts wary of assuming the intensity of Democratic voters will translate into equally robust electoral gains.

Federal:

Judge Declares Mistrial in Menendez Prosecution
Washington Post – Alan Maimon and Devlin Barrett | Published: 11/16/2017

The bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against him and Salomon Melgen, a wealthy physician. Menendez is accused of using his political influence to help Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations, flights on a private jet, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator. Prosecutors said Menendez pressured government officials on Melgen’s behalf over an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and helped obtain U.S. visas for the doctor’s girlfriends. The defense argued the gifts were not bribes but tokens of friendship between two men who were “like brothers.”

Kochs Key Among Small Group Quietly Funding Legal Assault on Campaign Finance Regulation
Center for Public Integrity – Lateshia Beachum | Published: 11/15/2017

The Center for Public Integrity investigated an array of organizations that have participated in legal challenges dating back 40 years that have resulted in a campaign finance system allowing unlimited sums to be pumped into modern elections. It is a system that both Republicans and Democrats now fully rely upon. Throughout that history, groups backed by David and Charles Koch have stood out as reliable, stalwart opponents of regulation of money in politics. While far from the only players in the legal battle, the Kochs are certainly among the most recognizable – and significant.

Mueller Puts Spotlight on Foreign Lobbying
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 11/15/2017

Foreign advocacy work in Washington, D.C. is common, lucrative, and occasionally controversial, but has rarely received the front-page scrutiny it is attracting now. That is mostly because of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, two high-level figures from the Trump campaign who have been indicted as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The charges against the two men, including allegations of money laundering, stem from work they did years ago to benefit a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. The lobbying work was not disclosed to the Department of Justice as is required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to the indictment. Manafort retroactively registered that work this year.

Russia Scandal Befalls Two Brothers: John and Tony Podesta
New York Times – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 11/10/2017

Kimberly Fritts resigned as chief executive of the Podesta Group as she begins work on launching a new firm, which will be called Cogent Strategies. The move is creating new uncertainty for the Podesta Group following the departure of its founder, Tony Podesta, who stepped away after he and the firm were pulled into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The Brave New World of Political Conspiracy-Theory Illustrations
Washington Post – Philip Bump | Published: 11/15/2017

Rep. Louie Gohmert produced a convoluted flowchart at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Justice Department ought to appoint a special prosecutor to probe the so-called Uranium One scandal. Sean Hannity also used the chart to explain interactions between President Obama’s administration, the Russians, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There is a reason both Hannity and Gohmert seized on these flowcharts to make their points. Americans have come to understand patterns of boxes and connecting arrows and lines as iconography meaning “conspiracy theory.” What Hannity and Gohmert are doing, in short, is implying a conspiracy by using the visual language associated with conspiracy theories.

From the States and Municipalities:

Florida: Hillsborough Will Go After Citizens Watchdogs Over Hagan Ethics Complaint
WTSP – Noah Pransky | Published: 11/15/2017

The Hillsborough County Commission voted to seek financial reimbursement from four activists who filed a failed ethics complaint against Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman. Hagan filed a petition for fees and costs for his attorney following the Florida Commission on Ethics’ announcement it found do probable cause that Hagan, Murman, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn violated the state’s ethics code in their involvement with the Go Hillsborough transportation plan. The Florida First Amendment Foundation called the request “deeply troubling” for the “chilling” effect it could have on more citizen watchdogs coming forward with concerns about government officials breaking the law.

Louisiana: Louisiana Politics: State ethics revisions seem likely; committee created
StMaryNow.com – Jeremy Alford | Published: 11/15/2017

Members of an advisory committee reviewing Louisiana’s ethics laws sound optimistic, some even confident, that significant policy changes will be recommended to the Legislature, maybe even in time for the regular session that begins March 12. There was an organizational meeting in September and a more structured gathering in October, when committee members discussed travel provisions and the different reporting tiers for financial disclosure statements. Some members are interested in taking a deeper look into the monthly reporting requirements for lobbyists, arguing that quarterly filings should be sufficient. Others are more curious about fees and how the state ethics board is allowed to determine or negotiate fine and penalty payments.

Michigan: Trash Giant Rizzo Pleads Guilty to Bribery
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 11/9/2017

A year after getting indicted in a wide-sweeping corruption probe that toppled his family trash-hauling empire, Chuck Rizzo Jr. pleaded guilty to bribery and wire fraud, admitting he lined the pockets of public officials to win lucrative contracts. Between 2012 and 2016, Rizzo was chief executive of Rizzo Environmental Services and the company was looking to maintain or extend municipal contracts in Macomb and Clinton townships, along with other municipalities. Rizzo admitted he provided money to former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds and former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas in exchange for their support for his company’s attempts at securing lucrative garbage contracts in their communities. Reynolds and Freitas are both also facing federal charges.

Missouri: How’s a Former Missouri Lawmaker Spending Campaign Cash? Golf, Booze, Cigars and More
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 11/10/2017

Former Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones transferred more than $650,000 from his campaign committee to a PAC called Leadership for America. Since it was formed last year, the committee has donated $22,000 to various Republican candidates in Missouri and given roughly $38,000 to a handful of charities. But it has also spent about $5,000 in recent months at golf resorts in Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and Tennessee, as well as several thousand more on meals, cigars, alcohol, event tickets, travel, and renovations to Jones’ St. Louis County office. Watchdogs worry that Jones has found a way to use campaign funds to bolster his lifestyle, despite prohibitions on using the money for personal business.

New Mexico: Compliance with ABQ Lobbying Rules Falls Way Short
NMPolitics.net – Marjorie Childress (New Mexico In Depth) | Published: 11/13/2017

A review by New Mexico In Depth found a lack of compliance among registered lobbyists in Albuquerque. The reporting failure is due in part, to lack of education aimed at lobbyists about the rules. It is also due to how the ordinance’s enforcement provision is interpreted. According to the city attorney’s office, a written, notarized complaint is the only way to trigger an inquiry, although one transparency champion reads the ordinance as giving the city attorney’s office flexibility to pursue investigations even when there is no written complaint. The result is less public information than the law requires involving lobbyists whose employers have had an interest in influencing proposals before city officials this year.

New York: Museum of Political Corruption Bestows Nellie Bly Award
Albany Times Union – Amy Biancolli | Published: 11/14/2017

When Bruce Roter informed Susanne Craig that she won the Museum of Political Corruption’s inaugural Nellie Bly Award, he traveled to the offices of The New York Times to hand over the prize: a check for $1,250. It was the exact amount paid by the muckraking Bly when she bought off the state Legislature in 1888, successfully defeating a piece of legislation. “He presented me with a check in a brown envelope and passed it under the table,” recalled Craig. She is the reporter who discovered pages from Donald Trump’s tax returns in her newsroom mailbox in October 2016.

North Carolina: Nonprofit Provides TV Studio for Lt. Gov. Forest’s Office
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 11/12/2017

A little-known group set up by the lieutenant governor’s office and headed by a major campaign donor has provided Lt. Gov. Dan Forest with enough television equipment to build an in-office studio. Forest’s arrangement with the North Carolina Promotion and Development Fund (NCPDF) appears to be unique in state government. NCPDF is a 501(c)(4). These groups are perhaps best known as political advertising vehicles for anonymous donors. Attorneys who specialize in this section of the tax code said the way Forest’s office uses the NCPDF seems to be allowed under state and federal law, without disclosing donors, provided the group does not fund campaign activities.

Texas: Texas Sheriff Is on the Hunt for Driver with Profane Anti-Trump Window Sticker
Washington Post – Marwa Eltagouri and J. Freedom du Lac | Published: 11/16/2017

A sheriff in Texas is looking for a truck bearing a profanity-laced anti-Trump sticker and said authorities are considering charging its owner with disorderly conduct, a threat that raised alarm among free speech advocates. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls posted a photograph of the truck on Facebook after, he said, he received several complaints about the display from unhappy people in the Houston-area county. The Houston Chronicle said the truck’s owners have no plans to remove the custom graphic, which they ordered after Trump’s election.

Wisconsin: Scott Walker’s Campaign Treasurer’s Firm Gets Capitol Contract After Being the Only Bidder
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 11/9/2017

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration helped give a contract worth at least $35,000 to a firm affiliated with Walker’s campaign treasurer. The administration in June sought proposals as it looked for a company that could raise $75,000 or more for improvements to the Capitol and a gala to celebrate its 100th anniversary, giving the contract to Solutions KCB. The company’s registered agent is Kate Lind, the governor’s campaign treasurer. Department of Administration spokesperson Steve Michels said the administration helped with the procurement process, but the ultimate decisions were made by the Wisconsin Historical Foundation and the commission organizing the anniversary celebration.

 

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.