News You Can Use Digest – September 15, 2017

campaign finance, ethics, lobbying, News You Can Use, political contributions
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National:

How Anna Nicole Smith’s Billionaire In Laws Secretly Lobbied the Courts
Bloomberg.com – Zachary Mider | Published: 9/13/2017

When the heirs of billionaire J. Howard Marshall II, famous for his May-December romance with Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith, went to court in a $75 million tax dispute, they got help from an unlikely ally: Barber-Scotia College, the nation’s first institution of higher learning for black women. Barber-Scotia’s name, along with those of four other historically black colleges and universities, was on a friend-of-the-court brief submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The brief was part of a campaign by the Marshall family, orchestrated by a Washington, D.C. consulting firm, to influence two of the nation’s highest courts. The campaign shows how it is possible for well-funded litigants to stack the deck by generating phony friends of the court, or by paying advocates who present themselves as independent but are really lobbyists in disguise.

On Facebook and Twitter, a Hunt for Russia’s Meddling Hand
New York Times – Scott Shane | Published: 9/7/2017

The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda. An investigation reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Hillary Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. Given the powerful role of social media in political contests, understanding the Russian efforts will be crucial in preventing or blunting similar, or more sophisticated, attacks in upcoming elections.

Federal:

Russian Network RT Must Register as Foreign Agent in US
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 9/12/2017

The company that runs the U.S. version of RT, the Russian state-owned outlet originally known as Russia Today, must register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, signaling that all of their content would be labeled as propaganda from Moscow. Media organizations have been exempted from the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is wide-ranging in its disclosure requirements and generally applies to political consultants and those working in lobbying or public relations. It would be a felony if RT is found to have willfully failed to register as a foreign agent, however.

From the States and Municipalities:

Colorado
Denver City Council Approves New Rules Requiring Reports of Dark-Money Spending in Elections
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 9/11/2017

The Denver City Council approved a bill that will require the reporting of at least $1,000 in independent spending by individuals, companies, or other organizations to support candidates or ballot issues. Those independent expenditures include any activity aiming to aid or hurt a candidate, including “electioneering communications” such as mailers, broadcast ads, or other advertising. The initial report to the Denver Elections Division, disclosing all expenses and donors above $25, will be required within two days after cumulative spending reaches $1,000.

Illinois
Weighing Third Term, Emanuel Relies on Campaign Donors Who Get City Hall Benefits
Chicago Tribune – Jeff Coen and Bill Ruthhart | Published: 9/8/2017

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ramps up his campaign fundraising toward a possible third term, he continues to rely on donors who have received City Hall benefits, ranging from contracts and zoning approvals to appointments and personal endorsements from the mayor. With the mayoral election still a year and a half away, Emanuel has collected $3.1 million in high-dollar contributions. And more than $2.1 million of it, nearly 70 percent, has come from 83 donors who have benefited from actions at City Hall.

Massachusetts
Pro-Charter School Group Pays State’s Largest Campaign Finance Penalty
Boston Globe – Michael Levenson | Published: 9/11/2017

A group that backed last year’s charter school ballot question in Massachusetts paid $426,466 as part of a campaign finance settlement. The payment by Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy is the largest civil forfeiture in the history of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Investigators say the organization violated the law by raising money from individuals and then contributing that money, more than $15 million, to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee in a manner intended to disguise the source of the money. The group agreed with the IRS to dissolve itself, and Families for Excellent Schools, its umbrella group, agreed not to fundraise or engage in any election-related activity in Massachusetts for four years.

Minnesota
Scott County Attorney Declines Charges in Dai Thao Bribery-Solicitation Case
St. Paul Pioneer Press – Frederick Melo | Published: 9/12/2017

St. Paul City Councilperson Dai Thao will not face criminal charges over an allegation he attempted to solicit a bribe. The Scott County attorney’s office declined to prosecute the claims made against Thao and his former campaign manager, Angela Marlow. The allegations stemmed from a meeting between Thao, lobbyist Sarah Clarke, and some of Clarke’s clients. Clarke said that Thao told the group during the meeting that he needs “resources to spread his message.” She said it seemed clear he was asking for a bribe.

New Mexico
New Campaign Spending Rules to Take Effect
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 9/8/2017

Nonprofit advocacy organizations that spend unlimited amount of money to influence elections in New Mexico will have to disclose the names of contributors under rules adopted by state elections officials. The new requirements are set to go into effect on October 10, in time for 2018 primary and general elections, for so-called dark money groups that spend at least $2,500 on a statewide election or ballot measure. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said vague and confusing rules are being cleaned up and the changes will “help shine a light on the dark money that has been plaguing our state’s campaigns.”

New York
Firm Uses Loophole to Secretly Donate $60G to de Blasio Campaign, Lobbying Records Show
New York Daily News – James Fanelli | Published: 9/9/2017

Constantinople & Vallone has a reputation as a powerful lobbying firm that gets its clients access to New York City Hall, but what is not so well known is it has helped steer $60,900 in campaign donations to Mayor Bill de Blasio. A loophole in the city’s campaign finance law has allowed the firm to stay under the radar as a fundraiser for the mayor. The only way to know Constantinople & Vallone has raised so much money for de Blasio is through obscure filings with the city clerk’s lobbying bureau.

Oregon
Legislators Consolidate Power, Cash, in Partially Invisible Cycle of Giving to Each Other
Salem Statesman-Journal – Cooper Green | Published: 9/9/2017

If a candidate passes contributions to another candidate, or to a re-election fund for fellow party members, the public can no longer see the money’s original donor. These transactions are known as pass-throughs. Transactions between Oregon legislators, or between lawmakers and re-election funds, are commonplace and have been for decades. An analysis shows legislative officeholders and candidates have utilized this system of pass-throughs more than 2,800 times in the last three election cycles alone, transferring $18.7 million dollars between themselves. Based on the total amount contributed to legislators during that time, this means more than a quarter of all money involved in legislative campaigns has seen more than one lawmaker as it moves through the system.

Pennsylvania
Elect Them, Then Lobby Them: Two firms blur the worlds of policy and politics in Harrisburg
Philadelphia Inquirer – Angela Couloumbis and Liz Navratil | Published: 9/11/2017

For years, lobbying in Pennsylvania was a secretive business, and more recently attracted scrutiny from federal investigators. A decade-old law strengthened registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists and their clients, but the state still lags behind others in transparency and accountability, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Among Harrisburg’s high-powered partnerships, only two have well-established campaign arms that, for the last decade, have dominated the market on both electing and lobbying Republicans who drive public policy.

Tennessee
Lobbyists Courted Lawmakers with Free Food, Baseball Tickets at Conferences
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 9/11/2017

Under state law, Tennessee lawmakers can accept gifts like dinner and sports tickets at out-of-state conferences, provided they are related to the conference itself. Lobbyists can even pay for events labeled “state night” for lawmakers. And little disclosure is required, unlike the rules in place for how lobbyists interact with lawmakers at the Capitol. The practice at out-of-state conferences is increasingly widespread, including at conferences this year in Boston and Denver, according to interviews with lobbyists, lawmakers, and legislative staff.

Virginia
Virginia Lawmakers Attend Fewest Lobbyist-Paid Entertainment Events Since McDonnell Case
The Virginian-Pilot – Will Houp | Published: 9/7/2017

Virginia lawmakers continue to shrink away from meals, galas, and other entertainment occasions paid for by lobbyists as they attended less than half such events in 2016 and 2017 as they did three years ago. Data from the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council shows a stark difference in what delegates and senators felt comfortable accepting before and after the corruption charges against former Gov. Bob McDonnell. At the same time, several law changes related to lobbyist entertainment have muddied the water in terms of comparing year to year.

Washington
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Resigns After Fifth Child Sex-Abuse Allegation
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner, Daniel Beekman, and Lewis Kamb | Published: 9/12/2017

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, beset over the past five months by sex abuse allegations, resigned his office. His announcement came after The Seattle Times reported that a fifth man, one of his cousins, had accused Murray of molesting him decades ago. Though he has denied all the accusations against him, Murray had already decided not to seek re-election. City Council President Bruce Harrell will temporarily serve as mayor and will decide within five days whether to take on the role of acting mayor past the November 7 election. If he demurs, the council will pick another of its members to serve until the election results are certified.

 

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.