News You Can Use Digest - April 5, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

April 5, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 5, 2019





What Is ALEC? ‘The Most Effective Organization’ for Conservatives, Says Newt Gingrich
USA Today – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell | Published: 4/4/2019

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) became the nation’s best-known so-called model bill factory over its four decades by providing more than fill-in-the-blank legislation. The industry-sponsored group has weathered controversy and flourished because it also offers conservative Republican elected officials a social network, access to campaign donors, and a blueprint for how to accelerate their political careers. The networking takes place at ALEC’s annual meetings, where the group fetes and entertains lawmakers and their families. Relationships are forged over drinks and dinners, where lawmakers sit alongside conservative luminaries and corporate chiefs. By the end of each ALEC conference, attendees leave motivated to evangelize for conservative policies and equipped with ready-made legislation.


GAO: One-third of lobbying disclosures failed to include political contributions
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 3/29/2019

One-third of lobbyists’ disclosures do not include political contributions and one-fifth do not include previous jobs in government, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds. The GAO audited compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which requires a person to register as a lobbyist if lobbying activities constitute at least 20 percent of their time working for a client. The watchdog examined lobbying disclosure (LD-2) reports and political contribution (LD-203) reports filed during the third and fourth quarter of 2017 and the first and second quarter of 2018. It also conducted interviews with lobbyists for the study.

Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed
MSN – Nicholas Fandos, Michael Schmidt, and Mark Mazzetti (New York Times) | Published: 4/3/2019

Some members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have reportedly complained that the evidence they uncovered of obstruction of justice during their investigation was stronger than what U.S. Attorney General William Barr suggested. In his four-page letter to Congress, Barr wrote that Mueller did not uncover evidence to conclude the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election. Barr added that Mueller did not make a definitive conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. But Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided Mueller did not provide sufficient evidence of obstruction to pursue it. The summary noted Mueller did not exonerate the president on the obstruction matter. Some members of Mueller’s team felt Barr should have included more information from their own summaries of the probe.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Judge Bars Former Ethics Panel Member from Running for L.A. City Council
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 3/28/2019

A judge ruled that Former Los Angeles Ethics Commission member Serena Oberstein is barred from running for a city council seat that is up for grabs this summer. The legal battle revolved around a section of the City Charter that restricts ethics commissioners from running for any city office “concerning which the commission has made a decision during the term of the commissioner” – a ban that applies for two years after the end of their terms. In his ruling, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote that voting to impose fines on two people who ran unsuccessfully in the past to represent Council District 12 made Oberstein ineligible to run for that seat, since “these decisions concern the very office for which Oberstein seeks election.”

Illinois: Lori Lightfoot Elected Chicago Mayor, Making Her the First African-American Woman to Lead the City
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 4/2/2019

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot won a resounding victory to become both the first African-American woman and openly gay person elected mayor of Chicago. After waging a campaign focused on upending the vaunted Chicago political machine, Lightfoot dismantled one of its major cogs by dispatching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose candidacy had been hobbled in part by an anti-incumbent mood among voters and an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall. Both self-styled progressives, Preckwinkle and Lightfoot did not disagree much on the issues. As a result, the race largely boiled down to change versus experience.

Indiana: Casino Boss Treated Holcomb to Private Flights with Lucrative Gambling Deal on the Line
Indianapolis Star – Kaitlin Lange and Tony Cook | Published: 3/28/2019

An Indiana casino magnate last year treated Gov. Eric Holcomb to two private-jet flights and directed six-figure sums to Holcomb’s biggest 2016 campaign donor, all while pushing for changes to the state’s gaming laws that would benefit his new business. Rod Ratcliff, chief Executive Officer of Spectacle Entertainment, flew Holcomb to meetings in Colorado and Arizona that were hosted by the source of that campaign money, the Republican Governors Association. The flights gave Ratcliff and his business partners hours of exclusive access to the governor, who will have final say over their plans to move two Gary casinos to more lucrative locations. One of the flights was just a day before Ratcliff announced plans to acquire those two casinos.

Kentucky: Lobbyists Can’t Donate to Candidates but Give Big to Parties – Especially the GOP
Louisville Courier Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 4/3/2019

State law forbids a lobbyist from donating to the campaigns of candidates for the Kentucky General Assembly. But lobbyists can give to the state political parties, which use much of that money to support their candidates for the Legislature. An examination of the state Republican Party’s finance reports shows ta relatively small group of lobbyists provide a significant and steady cash flow, even for an organization with a growing number of big donors, as it has gained total control of the two chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

Maryland: Baltimore Mayor Pugh to Take Leave of Absence in Midst of ‘Healthy Holly’ Book Controversy
MSN – Ian Duncan and Yvonne Wenger (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/1/2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced she is taking an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons, just as a political scandal intensifies over what critics call a “self-dealing” book-sales arrangement that threatens her political career. Kaiser Permanente disclosed it paid $114,000 for about 20,000 copies of Pugh’s self-published paperbacks for children featuring a young girl named Healthy Holly aimed at promoting exercise and good nutrition. In 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh controls, awarded a $48 million contract to Kaiser to provide health benefits to city employees. Since 2011, Pugh has received $500,000 selling her illustrated books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she served on its board.

Missouri: Federal Investigation Plunges St. Louis County into Chaos
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jacob Barker and Jeremy Kohler | Published: 3/30/2019

The sudden delivery of wide-ranging subpoenas to St. Louis County, signaling an investigation by the U.S. attorney into the activities of County Executive Steve Stenger’s administration, has plunged the county, and the future of the region’s government, into chaos. Stenger’s ability to lead the county government, already limited by his toxic relationship with county lawmakers, now lies wounded. County employees openly speculate about who might be under investigation and for what conduct. Some county employees are concerned for their jobs, and all attention will shift to producing records to satisfy the subpoena.

New Jersey: Top Guns. These Are the Highest-Paid Lobbyists in N.J.
Newark Star Ledger – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/2/2019

Spending on lobbying in New Jersey hit $89.4 million last year, a decline after a record year for spending in 2017. But the number of registered lobbyists in the state, and how much they made, increased over the past year. Overall, 35 lobbyists made $200,000 or more, but many likely earned even more than what was reported. Lobbyists in New Jersey are not required to account for all their income. They do not report fees from lobbying local officials, and they do not have to list fees if their firm provides public relations advice to a client. Lobbyist Dale Florio described his role as “getting you in the door so you can make your case.” He said corporations and unions have thousands of members to make their voices heard to state officials. But for others, Florio said lobbying offers another avenue to make points to elected officials.

New Mexico: Governor Signs Bill for Ethics Commission
Santa Fe New Mexican – Andrew Oxford | Published: 3/28/2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill setting detailed guidelines for a new state ethics commission. Voters authorized an ethics commission by statewide ballot last year in the wake of a string of high-profile public corruption scandals. That vote still left lawmakers to determine the commission’s investigative powers and the extent of public access to documents and proceedings. Work in assembling the commission begins July 1, with a six-month startup period. The commission will have oversight of state officials and employees as well as candidates for state offices, lobbyists, and state contractors. New Mexico had been one of only six states without an independent ethics commission.

New York: In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 4/2/2019

Government reform advocates are disappointed by what they see as half-measures on campaign finance reform and the exclusion of broader improvements to state procurement processes and ethics reforms in the New York state budget. The budget deal included additional measures and funding for voting, election, and campaign finance reforms approved in previous months. The headline, though, was the compromise to mandate a binding commission that is meant to create a public financing program for state elections and must issue a report by December 1. One proposal that was approved prohibits lobbyists, PACs, labor unions, and an individual registered as an independent expenditure committee from giving loans to candidates and political committees.

North Carolina: NC GOP Chairman, Major Political Donor Indicted in Alleged Bribery Scheme
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 4/2/2019

A federal grand jury indicted North Carolina Republican Party Chairperson Robin Hayes, along with major Republican campaign donor Greg Lindberg and two of his associates, on conspiracy and bribery charges for their attempts to influence state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. The alleged scheme would have traded more than $1 million in political contributions in exchange for regulatory help at the Insurance Department. The indictment mentions another person was in contact with Lindberg and Causey – “Public Official A.” Lindberg made a $150,000 contribution in February 2018 to a committee supporting the official at the same time Lindberg allegedly asked the politician to help sway Causey. A joint fundraising committee for U.S. Rep. Mark Walker logged a $150,000 donation from Lindberg on February 17, 2018.

Pennsylvania: Vestige of the Past, State House’s ‘Lobbyist Room’ Vanishes
AP News – Marc Levy | Published: 3/30/2019

The “lobbyist room” at the Pennsylvania House is now off limits to lobbyists. For decades, lobbyists in the room could watch floor proceedings on television, print out copies of legislation, and send messages to lawmakers in the chamber through a House page who was effectively assigned full-time to this task during floor sessions. The House’s chief administrative official said he decided the room is not appropriate and shut it down. The move comes after Gov. Tom Wolf challenged lawmakers last year to adopt the kind of gift ban that he imposed on the executive branch. Still, it seems to signal no broader effort to hold lobbyists at arm’s length, and the perk was not dramatically different than lobbyists’ accommodations in some other Capitols.

Virginia: ‘It Just Went Poof’: The strange aftermath of Virginia’s cascade of political scandals
MSN – Campbell Robertson (New York Times) | Published: 4/1/2019

In the space of a week in February, the public was stunned by revelations about each of the three highest statewide elected officials in North Carolina: the racist photograph in Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook; accusations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; and Attorney General Mark Herring’s appearance in blackface at a party in college. Protesters and news crews swarmed the statehouse. Calls for resignations came from fellow Virginia Democrats, Republicans, and even 2020 presidential candidates. And then? “It just went poof – it’s like it never happened,” said Richmond resident Natalie Draper. Virginians have various theories as to how this surreal normalcy set in.

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