News You Can Use Digest – October 6, 2017

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

Angry GOP Donors Close Their Wallets
Politico – Alex Isenstadt and Gabriel Debenedetti | Published: 10/5/2017

With the Republican agenda at a virtual standstill on Capitol Hill, the party is contending with a hard reality. Some of the GOP’s most elite and influential donors, who spent the past eight years plowing cash into the party’s coffers in hopes of accomplishing a sweeping conservative agenda and undoing President Obama’s legislative accomplishments, are closing their wallets. The backlash is threatening to deprive Republicans of resources just as they are gearing up for the midterms. Party officials are so alarmed that U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues that contributions had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop.

Monsanto Banned from European Parliament
The Guardian – Arthur Nelson | Published: 9/28/2017

Lobbyists for Monsanto were barred from the European Parliament under new rules designed to force companies to submit to more scrutiny by lawmakers. The decision is the first time a company has violated European Union rules that came into force this January and means lobbyists for companies that do not co-operate in legislative hearings can have their access to parliament withdrawn. The parliament banned Monsanto lobbyists after the chemical company refused to attend a hearing into allegations that it interfered with safety studies.

Too Young to Vote, but Asking for Yours
New York Times – Lisa Foderaro | Published: 9/29/2017

Across the New York region, and indeed the country, young people are turning their attention to politics, motivated in part by the election of President Trump. From mayoral races to state legislative campaigns, teenagers and others who are too young to vote are canvassing neighborhoods and learning the intricacies of electoral politics. Some are running for office themselves.

Federal:

Health Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Drawing Ire for Chartered Flights
New York Times – Peter Baker, Glenn Thrush, and Maggie Haberman | Published: 9/29/2017

Tom Price, President Trump’s embattled health and human services secretary, resigned amid criticism of his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights. Price, a multimillionaire and orthopedic surgeon by training, had announced he would reimburse the government for a fraction of the costs of his charter flights in recent months. Politico estimated the total expense of the taxpayer-funded trips exceeded $400,000. The ruckus prompted by the secretary’s travel habits followed complaints earlier this year by Democrats and other critics about his ethics for a separate reason: private investments he made while a House member in health-care companies that could have benefited from bills he sponsored.

Liberal Groups Got IRS Scrutiny, Too, Inspector General Suggests
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis | Published: 10/3/2017

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration identified scores of cases in which the IRS may have targeted liberal-leaning groups for extra scrutiny based on their names or political leanings. A 2013 report found 96 groups with names referencing “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” or “9/12” were selected for intensive review between May 2010 and May 2012, and the House Ways and Means Committee later identified another 152 right-leaning groups that were subjected to scrutiny. Those findings fueled accusations by Republican lawmakers that the Obama administration engaged in politically motivated targeting of conservatives. But Democrats have long challenged those claims, arguing that liberal-leaning groups were given close scrutiny alongside the conservative groups.

Russians Took a Page from Corporate America by Using Facebook Tool to ID and Influence Voters
Washington Post – Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg, and Adam Entous | Published: 10/2/2017

The use of Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool by Russian operatives adds to an emerging picture of the effort to shape the U.S. election and sow division using tools built by American technology companies. It makes clear that Russians used Facebook to direct their influence campaigns to voters whom they had already tracked and to find new ones wherever they browsed the Internet, even if they used multiple devices such as a smartphone for work or a tablet at home. Targeted people might also have directed that same disinformation, whether intentionally or not, to people linked to them on social networks, such as their friends on Facebook.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Two Balch & Bingham Lawyers and One Drummond Executive Indicted in Bribery of State Legislator
AL.com – Kevin Faulk | Published: 9/28/2017

Two attorneys with a prominent Alabama law firm and a coal company executive have been indicted on charges of bribing a state legislator to oppose an environmental cleanup plan. Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney are named on charges including conspiracy and bribery. They are partners handling environmental litigation with Balch & Bingham, one of Alabama’s leading law firms. Drummond Co. vice president David Roberson was charged with the same crimes. Top of Form The three are accused of bribing former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, who pleaded guilty to accepting $360,000 in payments. Prosecutors say the law firm represented Drummond, and Robinson got a contract to oppose an expansion of an environmental cleanup site linked to Drummond.

Arizona: ASU, AU Shield Lobbying Expenses Via Foundations
Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting – Jim Small | Published: 9/29/2017

The state’s two largest public universities have for years been represented at the Capitol by powerful lobbying firms, though neither Arizona State University or the University of Arizona has records of hiring a contract lobbyist. Instead, each school’s nonprofit foundation has contracted directly with outside lobbyists to advocate at the Legislature on behalf of the schools. As a result, it is impossible for the public to know how much lobbying firms are being paid to represent the interests of public universities. State law does not require university foundations to disclose donors or expenditures, aside from the information required to be made public by federal tax laws governing 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Annual 990 forms require only summary figures for broad categories of income or expenses.

Florida: Figures in FBI Probe Worked Uber Ordinance Behind the Scenes
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 9/29/2017

Two central figures in the FBI’s public corruption probe in Tallahassee worked behind the scenes to help Uber and its taxicab rivals as city commissioners hashed out changes to their regulations on ride-sharing. Uber hired Paige Carter-Smith, executive director of the Downtown Improvement Authority and a close friend of city Commissioner Scott Maddox, as part of its consulting team. On the other side, Yellow Cab hired Adam Corey, a lobbyist and longtime friend of Mayor Andrew Gillum. But their work on the ordinance was never publicly disclosed, and neither one of them ever registered with the city as lobbyists for their respective clients.

Florida: Report: Review shows Florida’s utility watchdog has become a lapdog
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas | Published: 10/2/2017

A watchdog group is calling for changes in the state’s Public Service Commission, citing a series of decisions involving Florida Power & Light (FPL). The result, said Integrity Florida, is that FPL and the state’s other large investor-owned utilities influence the governor and Legislature through lobbying and campaign contributions, and they have used that power to pursue favorable decisions by the commission, the group said in a report.

Maryland: Loosened Fundraising Rules Unleashing Big Cash for 2018 Maryland Elections
Baltimore Sun – Erin Cox | Published: 10/1/2017

The 2018 election cycle in Maryland, which includes races for governor, attorney general, General Assembly, and several county executives, is the first full cycle since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling lifted the cap on the total amount donors may give to candidates. That 2014 ruling and a 2010 high court decision on PACs, analysts say, could unleash campaign spending up and down the ballot unlike anything Maryland has seen. “It really opened the floodgates,: said Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance at the State Board of Elections.

Missouri: GOP Mega Donor Should Face $320,000 Ethics Fine, Missouri Democrat Says
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 10/4/2017

State Rep. Mark Ellebracht is calling on the Missouri Ethics Commission to levy fines totaling $320,000 against a major Republican campaign donor. Ellebracht said businessperson David Humphreys employed a lobbyist for the past two years who was not registered. The lobbyist, Paul Mouton has admitted to the commission that he worked for Humphreys and discussed proposed legislation with state lawmakers and their staff during the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions. Mouton was fined $2,000 for not registering but will only have to pay $200 if he does not violate state lobbying laws within the next two years.

New York: More Corruption Trials? Possible Reprise Makes Albany Groan
New York Times – Jesse McKinley | Published: 10/4/2017

With the recent reversals of guilty verdicts on corruption charges of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader, it seems inevitable that Albany’s dirty laundry, and the actions of some of its powerful participants, will once again be hung out for examination. This time around, the courtroom rehashing of alleged misdeeds may occur during an election campaign, one in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be seeking a third term and all 213 Assembly and Senate seats will be up for grabs.

Washington: Armed with a Marimba, Lawmaker Puts on Concerts to Cover Legal Fees from Ethics Case
Tacoma News Tribune – Melissa Santos | Published: 9/28/2017

Washington Rep. Melanie Stambaugh is having marimba concerts at her business to pay for the $35,000 in legal costs she racked up during a recent ethics case over her social media posts. She was found to have committed 44 ethics violations for posting videos and photos produced by legislative staff to her Facebook page. Stambaugh said the concerts also include inspirational talks that focus in part on the confidence it took for her to stand up to the Legislative Ethics Board. It is possible the marimba concerts could cause her to run afoul of the ethics board once again.

Wisconsin: Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics
New York Times – Adam Liptak and Michael Shear | Published: 10/3/2017

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could reshape American democracy by considering whether extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution. There was something like consensus that voting maps warped by politics are an unattractive feature of American democracy. But the justices appeared split about whether the court could find a standard for determining when the practice had crossed a constitutional line.

 

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.