March 21, 2011 •
A Resource from the National Institute on Money in State Politics
Last Friday when I was writing my Highlighted Site of the Week post about the Sunshine Week website, I added some links to places for further study. In my haste I showed the last link for the “Best Practices for State Campaign Finance Disclosure, 2010” as being a project of SunshineWeek.0rg. Well, this isn’t the case, and I knew better. It belongs to the site FollowTheMoney.org, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
I send a big thank you to the National Institute on Money in State Politics for emailing me, showing appreciation for our blog, and very kindly setting the record straight.
If you dig into FollowTheMoney.org, you will see what an important resource it is for government transparency. In addition to the Best Practices data, you will find the Legislative Committee Analysis Tool, Point of Interest interactive maps, and many other features and mashups. You can filter your search results to your own congressional district and even use an API to stream their data onto your own website. Their motto: Jump Into the Data!
The National Institute on Money in State Politics offers the public information on a scale we absolutely could not get for ourselves. Their site describes the feat better than I can:
“Every two years, Institute data acquisition specialists collect, input and upload more than 90,000 contribution reports filed by 15,500 statewide, legislative and judicial candidates, 250 political party committees and 500 ballot measure committees in the 50 states. Researchers standardize donor names and code over $2 billion in contributions to 400 business categories and other interests. Programmers create open access to the records and attract thousands of users to the information. Staff also introduce users to the tools and resources and work with dozens of reporters to answer questions and provide custom data sets for their investigation.”
Thanks again to everyone at the National Institute on Money in State Politics. I hope our readers take the opportunity to view their powerful website.
March 18, 2011 •
Sunshine Week – Your Right to Know
This week is Sunshine Week, when people across the country celebrate the importance of government transparency and warn against the dangers of government secrecy. The organization behind the celebration has a website, SunshineWeek.org, and this is our Highlighted Site of the Week.
According to the site, Sunshine Week is “a national effort spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. The key funder has been the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with significant support from ASNE Foundation. In 2011, The Gridiron Club and Foundation contributed $10,000.” The week-long celebrations include groups across the country finding creative ways to raise awareness for freedom of information – through songwriting, hosting public forums, having classroom discussions, writing editorials to newspapers, and much more. This week also marks the 12th National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th.
The White House honored the week. Steve Croley, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, offered this blog post on the White House blog in honor of Sunshine Week. They have provided their analysis of how transparency improvements have been made on their Open Government Initiative web page.
For more information about Sunshine Week, you can follow their blog. You can also find many resources on the United States Department of Justice’s Freedom of Information Act website (foia.gov). Another item of interest to our readers is the “Best Practices for State Campaign Finance Disclosure, 2010” from the National Institute on Money in State Politics found on followthemoney.org.
Have a terrific weekend everyone!
March 17, 2011 •
U.S. PIRG Publishes an Executive Summary of 2010
With the advent of Gov 2.0 technology, there has been a hopeful movement toward government transparency, with state government spending being one key area. For those interested in following transparency news that affects government procurement, Govtech.com published an article by Matt Williams called “State Spending Transparency Greatly Improved from 1 Year Ago, Survey Says.”
This quote from U.S. PIRG’s website gives us an idea of what they were evaluating:
“State governments across the country have been moving toward making their checkbooks transparent by creating online transparency portals – government-operated websites that allow visitors to see who receives state money and for what purposes. Forty states provide transparency websites that allow residents to access databases of government expenditures with ‘checkbook-level’ detail. Most of these websites are also searchable, making it easier for residents to follow the money and monitor government spending.”
February 28, 2011 •
Governor Brown has appointed Ann Ravel to the Chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Ms. Ravel is the commission’s first chairwoman and has an established career in public service. She has served as counsel for Santa Clara County and most recently with the U.S. Justice Department.
Ravel has indicated she may reverse the recently enacted policy of publishing allegations on the FPPC’s website before investigations are concluded out of consideration for politicians and others who may be wrongfully accused of an infraction and later cleared.
Ms. Ravel replaces Dan Schnur, a Schwarzenegger appointee, atop the commission.
Photo of Ann Ravel courtesy of the Santa Clara County website.
February 28, 2011 •
New rules would regulate fee payments to placement agents, other proposals have been postponed.
Directors of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) adopted several new ethics proposals. Among the proposals are rules to regulate fee payments to placement agents, who help funds gain access to CalPERS decision makers, and rules to ensure the same staff members who negotiate investment deals do not monitor their success.
Additionally, the directors approved a requirement for investment partners to hold meetings in modest office settings instead of vacation resorts. The directors postponed decisions on proposals to reduce or eliminate travel, gifts, and other accommodations outside investment firms provide board members, and to impose a two-year “revolving door” ban on certain CalPERS employees.
These regulations being put in place are in line with legislation taking effect earlier this year requiring placement agents to register as lobbyists and regulating how the agents are paid.
Photo of CalPERS headquarters by Coolcaesar on Wikipedia.
February 25, 2011 •
A Deputy Attorney General Fired for Comments Made on Twitter
Jim Sedor, the editor of State and Federal Communications’ News You Can Use, offers this breaking news item. Jeff Cox, a deputy attorney general in Indiana, has been fired for commenting on his Twitter account that police in Wisconsin should use live ammunition to disperse protesters.
For the full story, here is the article by Chris Sikich and Mary Beth Schneider in the Indianapolis Star: “Indiana official fired for remarks on Twitter” from February 24.
Here is a statement from the Attorney General’s Office on Jeff Cox’s online postings and his being fired.
February 23, 2011 •
An effort to save money could bring cuts.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy has proposed reducing the number of budgeted state agencies from 87 to 57 in a move intended to increase efficiency and save the state money. Included in the reduction plan is a proposal to combine the Office of State Ethics, Elections Enforcement Commission, Contracting Standards Board, Freedom of Information Commission, and Judicial Review Council into a new agency to be named the Office of Governmental Accountability.
While not detailing how these agencies would be capable of functioning as one, or where any cost savings would be seen, Malloy did question in a press release why all these agencies are presently separate, stating “…why are all of the government accountability functions…separate entities when so many of their issue areas and jurisdiction overlap? It just didn’t make sense.”
Quickly voicing their concern against this proposal was the non-profit group Common Cause, noting how each of these “watchdog” agencies presently must keep watch over the other. A statement released by Common Cause noted “If a citizen files a complaint that the Elections Enforcement Commission or the Office of State Ethics has violated the FOI Act, the watchdog agency would be both the respondent and judge. It is unlikely that the new commission would bring ethics charges against itself, and this watchdog agency would undermine the public’s confidence and become a national joke.”
Photo of the state capitol by Ragesoss on Wikipedia.
February 18, 2011 •
Paul Dauphinais Replaces Holly Hill
The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) has chosen Paul Dauphinais as its new executive director. Mr. Dauphinais has served as the president of Garrett College in Maryland, the director for the University of Alaska in Palmer and the executive director for the Homer Chamber of Commerce. He also has a PhD in History and an MS in Information Systems and is a retired commander of the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Dauphinais starts February 22, replacing Holly Hill who held the position since 2008.
You can read the full press release here.
Map of Alaska by Skew-t on Wikipedia.
February 18, 2011 •
The Global Coalition against Corruption.
Transparency International (TI) has this motto: Corruption hurts everyone. Based in Berlin, Germany, TI is a non-governmental and non-partisan organization with a coalition of more than 90 local chapters throughout the world.
Founded in 1993, Transparency International monitors and reports on international political and corporate corruption. They look at how corruption affects political parties and the election process, lobbying, international trade, defense issues, and government procurement. TI’s work has directed the world’s attention to the problem of corruption and how it affects people, especially the poor. Among its accomplishments, the organization has played a big role in establishing the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
From TI’s website you can learn many things about the organization and global corruption. My favorite feature is the 2010 Corruption Perception Index. It has an interactive map reporting the perception of government and corporate corruption for people in most nations of the world. Looking at their scale from zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean), I held my breath before I saw the score for the United States. I was happy to find out we earned a 7.1 – pretty clean. I was disturbed to see how many places all over the world fell into the corrupt categories.
In addition to giving us a terrific web design, the people at Transparency International are savvy with social media. TI has put a great deal of engaging information on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and their blog. You can even find a podcast and a free iPhone app.
For anyone who cares about the worldwide issues of good government, Transparency International deserves your close attention.
February 10, 2011 •
Atlantic City City Council Passes Pay-To-Play Ordinance
As reported in today’s pressofatlanticcity.com, the Atlantic City City Council unanimously passed a pay-to-play ordinance mandated by an agreement with the state’s Department of Community Affairs. The law would prohibit granting contracts to individuals and businesses who contributed to a campaign or political action committee for the election of a council member.
The Department of Community Affairs gives financial assistance to local municipalities in exchange for measures such as instituting pay-to-play laws and giving the Department power to review and approve other city business, such as hiring and promoting. The only discussion about the ordinance was from Councilman Moisse Delgado, who asked, “Y’all ready for this?”
February 9, 2011 •
Final amendments released.
The state Ethics Commission has released its final promulgated amendments to the state’s ethics rules for 2011.
These amendments, available on the commission’s website, become law on July 1 if no action is taken by the state legislature.
One of the rules set forth this year will allow corporations to make independent expenditures and another will allow PACs to contribute to ballot measure committees.
Image of the Oklahoma flag by Denelson83 on Wikipedia.
February 3, 2011 •
Covers Persons Seeking Business Relationships
Senator James Arnold has introduced a bill which would require persons seeking business relationships with local jurisdictions and their agencies to register and report activity and expenditures as lobbyists, whether or not the local jurisdictions have ordinances dealing with lobbying. Senate Bill 0330 defines ‘business relationship’ to include pecuniary interest contracts and purchases with an agency with an aggregate value of at least $100,000.
The bill calls for the reporting to be filed with the local county clerks where the lobbying activity occurs. A $100 a day late fine would be imposed for each day a lobbyist misses his or her filing date and lobbyists knowingly failing to register or file would face a Class A infraction.
The bill also allows local jurisdictions to adopt ethics ordinances and establish ethics commissions.
Map of Indiana by Jim Irwin on Wikipedia.
February 3, 2011 •
Following a headline-grabbing scandal in which several prominent Alabama lawmakers, businessmen, and lobbyists were indicted in a cash-for-votes scheme related to pending gambling laws, state legislators took the opportunity to overhaul lobbyist, campaign finance, and other ethics rules.
The special session, called by Governor Riley in late December, lasted seven days and saw the passage of several landmark bills, each of which was promptly signed into law.
The most dramatic change concerning lobbyists is the newly enacted expenditure limits. Previously, lobbyists could spend anything on an official without having to report it until the spending exceeded $250 per day. Now, lobbyists may only spend $25 on an official for a meal with an annual limit of $150. For a lobbyist’s employer, the limit is $50 per meal with a $250 annual cap. This law has been criticized by some as having too many loopholes. For instance, the limit does not apply to an “educational function” or certain “widely attended” events. Disclosure of spending at these events is still required when spending exceeds $250 per official.
Lawmakers also passed a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers of funds. This, lawmakers hope, will reduce the “shell game” sometimes played which makes it very difficult for the public to track who is actually funding candidates or making expenditures.
Several of the laws passed impacted the actions of state officials directly. Starting in 2014, a state lawmaker will no longer be allowed to hold another government job. Additionally, the reforms include a ban on “pass through pork.” This is a practice whereby state lawmakers could direct an agency to spend money a certain way without legislative approval. Finally, the Alabama Ethics Commission will be granted subpoena power; this is expected to make enforcement of the laws much easier and effective.
The most controversial bill passed during the session is one banning politically active groups from receiving contributions via payroll deduction from state employees. This law was decried as an attack on the American Education Association, a group usually linked to Democratic candidates. Governor Riley, a Republican, defended the bill as a step to prevent misuse of state time and money.
While most agree the reform package is not perfect or all-inclusive, most within the state’s ethics and political circles agree they are a significant step forward at a time when Alabama badly needs one.
Photo of the Alabama Statehouse by Spyder_Monkey on Wikipedia.
January 21, 2011 •
The Texas legislature is looking to tackle a new piece of pay-to-play legislation with Senate Bill 110.
The bill would affect an individual who submits a competitive bid or proposal for a contract as an individual, partner or owner of a privately held business, or board member or executive officer of a business.
They would be prohibited from making a political contribution to a candidate for statewide office, a statewide officeholder, or a specific-purpose committee for supporting or opposing a candidate for statewide office or assisting a statewide officeholder, during the period beginning with the date the bid or proposal is submitted and ending when the contract is awarded to another person or the 30th day after the bidder is awarded the contract.
Further, the same restrictions would be applied to a general-purpose committee established or administered by a corporation. If passed in current form, the legislation would take effect September 1, 2011.
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com.