News You Can Use Digest – October 20, 2017

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

Wary of Hackers, States Move to Upgrade Voting Systems
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 10/14/2017

State election officials, worried about the integrity of their voting systems, are pressing to make them more secure ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines, and even adding cybersecurity experts to their election teams. The efforts amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since the contested presidential election in 2000 spelled an end to punch-card ballots and voting machines with mechanical levers.

Federal:

Republican Lawmakers’ Posh Hideaway Bankrolled by Secret Corporate Cash
Center for Public Integrity – Carrie Levine | Published: 10/18/2017

Behind the scenes at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, several major corporations and trade groups secretly bankrolled a plush hideaway for lawmakers. The companies funded Friends of the House 2016 LLC, which in turn paid for the design and outfitting of an exclusive office, lounge, and gathering space for legislators, and controlled access to the so-called cloakroom. That effectively hid the corporations’ donations from public view. National political conventions are legendary opportunities for access to lawmakers, despite ethics reforms passed in the wake of influence peddling scandals. Complex rules govern even the details of events, such as food menus, but often turn on technical points, forcing lawyers to double-check legal advice every four years.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Female Lawmakers, Staffers and Lobbyists Speak Out on ‘Pervasive’ Harassment in California’s Capitol
Los Angeles Times – Melanie Mason | Published: 10/17/2017

More than 140 women – including state legislators, staff, political consultants, and lobbyists – are signing a letter calling out the “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment and mistreatment that plagues California politics. Their goal is to prompt changes in how harassment is handled and to force some soul-searching among those at the Capitol. Sexism is not exclusive to politics, but it can be particularly potent, many of the letter’s participants said, because of an imbalanced dynamic in which lawmakers and top lobbyists – predominantly men – hold much of the decision-making power.

Idaho: Idaho Lawmakers Reject Removal of Campaign Donation Limits; Call for More Reporting, Disclosure
Spokane Spokesman-Review – Betsy Russell | Published: 10/18/2017

A bipartisan working group of Idaho lawmakers rejected a proposal to eliminate all the state’s limits on campaign contributions, and instead endorsed changes to require more frequent and more detailed disclosures, including adding new reporting in local races and requiring information about who is behind shadowy outside groups that run independent expenditure campaigns. The panel also received a draft bill to give Idaho its first-ever financial disclosure requirements for officeholders and candidates; Idaho is one of just two states with no such requirements.

Kansas: Olathe GOP Lawmaker Takes on Additional Job: Senior government strategist with Cerner
Kansas City Star – Hunter Woodall | Published: 10/18/2017

Kansas Rep. Erin Davis has taken a job with the Cerner Corp. as a senior government strategist while still holding elected office. She said she did not see her Cerner job as a conflict-of-interest. “My territory is [the] Northwest United States. … Kansas is not part of my territory,” Davis said. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment currently has a contract with Cerner that runs through the end of 2019 to administer the state employee health plan wellness program.

Louisiana: As Quatrevaux Leaves New Orleans IG’s Office, Turmoil and Infighting Abound: ‘It’s vindictive’
New Orleans Advocate – Jessica Williams | Published: 10/17/2017

New Orleans; inspector general for the past eight years, Ed Quatrevaux, is retiring under duress after the board that oversees his work announced a national search for a replacement and after a report written by Howard Schwartz, a top deputy, alleged mismanagement and even corruption within the office. A second top deputy who was targeted in the report, Nadiene Van Dyke, is also expected to retire. On his way out, Quatrevaux fired Schwartz, accusing him of bias and a conflict-of-interest, essentially saying Schwartz had written the report to line up the top job for himself. Given the bitterness of the infighting, there is a range of opinions about how to restore the luster to an office whose efficacy largely depends on its reputation for integrity.

Maine: Lawmakers Call York County Casino Campaign a ‘Case Study’ in Abuse of Initiative Process
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 10/18/2017

The ballot question that asks Maine voters to allow a developer to build a casino in the state is the “poster child” for a citizen’s referendum process run amok, members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee said. Sen. Roger Katz said the casino campaign violates the intent of the referendum process, a part of the Maine Constitution meant to give citizens a way to enact laws through a statewide vote if their elected representatives fail to respond to public concerns. He said the committee would explore ideas at its next meeting for reforming the initiative process.

Maryland: Ex-Liquor Board Director Admits Tipping Off Those in Bribery Scheme to FBI Probe
Washington Post – Lynh Bui | Published: 10/18/2017

A former Prince George’s County liquor board official pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors say David Dae Sok Son acted as a middle man between liquor store owners and elected officials to influence state legislation related to Sunday liquor sales. When the FBI questioned Son in December, he then tried to tip off people being investigated about the probe, prosecutors said. Son also told a restaurant manager in Beltsville who had agreed to pay a $50,000 bribe for a liquor license that the authorities were investigating the manager. That manager subsequently left the country.

Massachusetts: Massachusetts’ Top Court to Rule on Union Campaign Donation Loophole
New Boston Post – Evan Lips | Published: 10/12/2017

A conservative fiscal watchdog that has spent the last several years trying to overturn Massachusetts’ ban on campaign donations from business owners announced its case will be decided by the state’s top court. The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance began challenging the state’s union donation loophole in court in 2015. State campaign finance law allows labor groups, even those based out of state, to flood Massachusetts political campaigns with donations of up to $15,000. In-state businesses, however, are barred from paying anything to prop up candidates. Donations from individuals, meanwhile, are capped at $1,000.

New Jersey: N.J. Elections: Political fundraising laws must be updated, watchdog commission says
Bergen Record – Catherine Carrera | Published: 10/18/2017

In what the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) says is an indication that campaign donors are sidestepping New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” laws, fundraising by party-based committees is down for the 2017 election cycle when compared with 2013, the last time the governor’s seat and full Legislature were up for grabs. That has led to calls from the ELEC to update the laws regarding political donations, particularly those that apply to special-interest groups that are loosely affiliated with a party. Those PACs are not subject to current laws that require full disclosure.

New York: Vance Controversy Spotlights Lax Campaign Finance Rules for District Attorneys
Gotham Gazette – Rachel Silberstein | Published: 10/16/2017

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties. While it is not illegal, or uncommon, for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to New York’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.

Ohio: All State Senators Will Undergo Sexual Harassment Training, Senate President Says
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Laura Hancock | Published: 10/18/2017

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof said all senators will be required undergo sexual harassment training in the wake of Sen. Cliff Hite’s resignation for inappropriate behavior toward a woman. Hite said he talked to a female state employee in a way that was inappropriate for a married man and asked her for hugs. He said there was no physical contact beyond that. Obhof also said he does not think the Senate has a widespread problem with sexual harassment. He said the training, for both Republicans and Democrats and their staffs in the Senate, is intended to eliminate any ambiguity over what is and is not appropriate.

Pennsylvania: Philly PAC Hit with Record Fine for Failing to Report $160,000 in Campaign Spending
WHYY – Dana DiFilippo | Published: 10/16/2017

A PAC faces a $60,000 fine for failing to file required campaign finance reports for money it spent to sway voters in Philadelphia’s May 2015 primary. Three city council members paid thousands of dollars to Citizens Organizing for Pennsylvania’s Security to help influence voters. So did developer Ori Feibush, who sent the PAC more than $65,000 during his failed bid to for the council. Those payments were legal and the campaigns filed the necessary reports. But how the PAC spent the money has remained a mystery, since it did not file campaign finance reports, as city law requires.

South Carolina: Criminal Conspiracy Charges Lodged against Richard Quinn, 4 Others in S.C. Statehouse Corruption Case
Charleston Post and Courier – Glenn Smith and Andy Shain | Published: 10/18/2017

Political consultant Richard Quinn, along with former state Reps. Jim Harrison and Tracy Edge, were indicted in a corruption scheme that has now ensnared half a dozen South Carolina lawmakers. In addition, Rep. Rick Quinn, the elder Quinn’s son, was charged with criminal conspiracy. Sen. John Courson was charged with statutory misconduct in office. Both Rep. Quinn and Courson already faced other misconduct charges. Richard Quinn has been a clear target of the probe for months but the consultant had largely remained on the sidelines as others around him were indicted. The newest developments bring him front and center in the criminal case while looping in present and former lawmakers with ties to a firm with tentacles throughout state government.

Tennessee: Michael Flynn, Nicki Minaj Shared Content from This Tennessee GOP Account. But It Wasn’t Real. It Was Russian.
Washington Post – Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin, and Adam Entous | Published: 10/18/2017

Russian internet trolls ran a popular Twitter account that claimed to belong to the Tennessee Republican Party. Twitter took nearly a year to shut down the account, @TEN_GOP, despite repeated notifications from the state’s real Republican Party pointing out the account was fake. The account had a knack for pushing incendiary content across the social media platform. The list of prominent people who tweeted out links from the account includes political figures such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, celebrities like Nicki Minaj and James Woods, and media personalities such as Ann Coulter and Chris Hayes. There is no evidence any of them knew the account was run by Russians.

 

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