News You Can Use Digest – November 3, 2017

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

Russia-Financed Ad Linked Clinton and Satan
New York Times – Cecilia Kang, Nicholas Fandos, and Mike Isaac | Published: 11/1/2017

Lawmakers released scores of political ads purchased by Russian agents on Facebook and Twitter that showed the extent of the Kremlin’s attempts to polarize the American voting public on issues like race, police abuse, and religion. One account, Army of Jesus, published an illustration of an arm-wrestling match between Christ and the devil. “Satan: If I win, Clinton wins!” the headline read. The sampling of ads came during hearings with the top lawyers for Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and were intended to show the executives how pervasively Russia used their platforms to further its campaign of misinformation.

Federal:

Congress Mulls Toughening Foreign Lobbying Law
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 10/31/2017

A day after former Trump campaign chairperson Paul Manafort was indicted on charges that included failing to register as a foreign agent, a top U.S. Senate Republican introduced legislation intended to stiffen enforcement of federal rules for foreign lobbyists. Sen. Chuck Grassley joined Rep. Mike Johnson to propose identical bills they said would address ambiguous requirements for those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. That ambiguity has, over the years, led to a sharp drop in the number of registrations and the prospect of widespread abuses, they said.

Scofflaw Political Groups Are Ignoring FEC Fines
Politico – Dave Levinthal (Center for Public Integrity) | Published: 10/30/2017

More than 160 political committees and similar groups together owe the federal government more than $1.3 million worth of unpaid fines. Some of those unpaid fines amount to as little as $10 while others soar into five figures. Many cases concern all-but-forgotten also-ran political candidates, but others involve political luminaries. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits have joined the nonpayment parade of late. And there is little evidence any of that cash will soon begin to roll in. Uncooperative political committee leaders, bureaucratic bumbling, and weak enforcement efforts all contribute to election law breakers outrunning penalties.

Trump Campaign Adviser Admitted to Lying about Russian Contacts
Washington Post – Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger | Published: 10/30/2017

One of President Trump’s former campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents who are investigating possible collusion between the campaign and the Russian government. Papadopoulos had contact with unnamed overseas professor, who told him the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including thousands of her emails. The plea represents the most explicit evidence the Trump campaign was aware the Kremlin was trying to help Trump and the campaign was eager to accept that help. As part of that effort, the Russian government hacked Democratic accounts and released a trove of embarrassing emails related to Clinton’s campaign.

Under Mueller Scrutiny, Democratic Donor Tony Podesta Resigns from Lobbying Firm
New York Times – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 10/30/2017

Hours after the first indictments in the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, Tony Podesta abruptly quit his post atop the Podesta Group, one of K Street’s top lobbying firms. The Podesta Group and another company with which it had worked, Mercury Public Affairs, were referenced, though not by name, in an indictment of two former Trump campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. No charges have been brought against Podesta or officials from his firm or Mercury. But both firms have been subpoenaed for records and testimony about their work on behalf of a client referred to them by Manafort and Gates, the European Center for a Modern Ukraine.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arkansas: State PACs Cite Confusion Over E-Filing
Arkansas Online – Michael Wickline | Published: 10/29/2017

Officials representing several PACs said that because they were confused about the effective date of a new Arkansas law requiring campaign finance reports to be filed in electronic form, they signed affidavits to declare they do not have access to the technology to meet the requirement. Meanwhile, five state elected officials filed their reports on paper without submitting the affidavit required by state law to show why they are not filing electronically. A few of them said they did not file the affidavits partly out of confusion. These five candidates are in addition to six others who did sign the exemption affidavits. Two new laws address electronic filing of the reports.

Connecticut: Tucked in Budget: Shorter leash on election watchdogs
Connecticut Post – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 10/30/2017

Connecticut lawmakers are using a bipartisan budget deal to do what they could not during the regular session: require the State Elections Enforcement Commission to dismiss complaints against candidates, including legislators, that are not resolved in one year. At the same time, lawmakers included a provision in the budget that more than doubles the maximum campaign contribution they can accept to qualify for public financing under the Citizens’ Election Program from $100 to $250, a change likely to ease their access to public dollars for their campaigns. Gov. Dannell Malloy has not yet signed the budget bill.

Florida: City Issues New Ethics Rules for Employees
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeffrey Schweers | Published: 10/30/2017

Tallahassee employees cannot accept gifts of $100 or more from contractors and suppliers with the city and must tell their supervisors each year of any outside work. The email notification of the changes was sent on the heels of an ethics workshop where the city commission adopted three provisions involving misuse of position, gifts from lobbyists, and greater financial disclosure.

Florida: Ethics Board Cites Justin Sayfie, Capitol Group for Reporting Violations
Florida Politics – Jim Rosica | Published: 10/25/2017

The Florida Commission on Ethics is moving against lobbyist Justin Sayfie and another firm for problems arising from random audits of their compensation reports. Sayfie called the problem “a simple math error.” The commission also dropped cases against three other executive-branch lobbying concerns. The ethics board said it found probable cause “to believe that the executive branch lobbying firm under-reported compensation received from a principal for the third and fourth quarters of 2015.” Once the commission finds probable cause, that finding is sent to the governor for further action. The firms can request a hearing, or the governor and Cabinet members can decide to call a hearing on their own.

Florida: Florida Politicians Become Surveillance Targets as Political Payback Rumors Swirl
Politico – Matt Dixon | Published: 10/30/2017

During the final week of the 2017 legislative session, a covert surveillance camera recorded the comings and goings of legislators and lobbyists living on the sixth floor of the Tennyson condominium near the Florida Capitol. Weeks later, in a parking lot of a restaurant in Tallahassee, Sen. Jack Latvala, a candidate for governor, was also being spied upon. Photographs show him kissing a female lobbyist. These incidents were the work of private investigators, whose research has fueled an escalating barrage of rumors about sexual harassment in Tallahassee and infidelity among state lawmakers.

Illinois: Emanuel’s Ethics Board Walks Back $2,500 Fines Against 3 Who Illegally Lobbied Him
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 10/27/2017

In July, the Chicago Board of Ethics fined businessperson Jim Abrams, Linden Capital Partners President Tony Davis, and attorney Alan King $2,500 each after finding they failed to register as lobbyists after seeking to influence Mayor Rahm Emanuel through his personal email account. But the board has rescinded the fines. As part of the settlement, the men agreed not to lobby any city official for one year without registering and to complete a training program on the lobbying law. When large fines were levied in the first round of fines for illegally lobbying the mayor, Emanuel accused the ethics board of turning “average citizens” into lobbyists.

Massachusetts: Rare Trick Pays Off Big Time for Lobbyists
Boston Herald – Matt Stout | Published: 10/30/2017

Some of Massachusetts’ top-paid lobbyists have fattened their lucrative paychecks by working under multiple firms and in some cases, raising concerns of potential conflicts between their well-played clientele. At least three of the top 10 highest compensated lobbyists registered as working in the Capitol last year reported building a client list of at least two different lobbying firms, each pushing their total pay north of $500,000. Ethics experts cautioned that lobbyists have to tread lightly in situations involving complex bills in which clients stake out separate interests.

South Carolina: Law Provides Loophole for South Carolina Legislators to Be Paid for ‘Consulting’ Work
Charleston Post and Courier – Seanna Adcox (Associated Press) | Published: 10/29/2017

When they were in office, few knew that state Reps. Jim Harrison and Tracy Edge, both in House leadership posts, were working for Richard Quinn, one of South Carolina’s most influential political and business consultants. Between them, Edge and Harrison earned a reported $1.2 million from their secret consulting work with Quinn. They could keep the payments under wraps because, until this year, lawmakers did not have to disclose that kind of consulting work on ethics reports. But even after last year’s income disclosure law required public officials to start reporting all sources of income, much can remain hidden.

 

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.