News You Can Use Digest – August, 3, 2018

campaign finance, elections, ethics, legislative sessions, lobbying, News You Can Use

 

 

 

National:

As Midterm Elections Approach, a Growing Concern That the Nation Is Not Protected from Russian Interference
Washington Post – Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg | Published: 8/1/2018

Two years after Russia interfered in the American presidential campaign, the nation has done little to protect itself against a renewed effort to influence voters in the coming congressional midterm elections, according to lawmakers and independent analysts. They say voting systems are more secure against hackers, thanks to action at the federal and state levels, and the Russians have not targeted those systems to the degree they did in 2016. But Russian efforts to manipulate American voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the U.S.

Campaigns Enter Texting Era with a Plea: Will U Vote 4 Me 🙏??
New York Times – Kevin Roos | Published: 8/1/2018

Candidates in this year’s midterm elections are still sending mailers, putting ads on television, and knocking on doors to drum up support. But they have added a new, hard-to-ignore tool to their arsenal: personalized text messages sent to voters’ phones. When TV ads are skipped and email inboxes automatically filter out junk and promotions, it is not surprising that campaigns are desperate for a tool that can reliably get voters’ attention. What is surprising is how influential the lowly SMS text message has remained. Both Democratic and Republican campaigns are relying on mass-texting apps that take advantage of a clever legal loophole to send huge numbers of texts per day without running afoul of anti-spam laws.

Federal:

At Prayer Breakfast, Guests Seek Access to a Different Higher Power
WRAL – Kenneth Vogel and Elizabeth Dias (New York Times) | Published: 7/27/2018

The National Prayer Breakfast has long brought together people from all over the world for an agenda built around the teachings of Jesus. But the annual event has become an international influence-peddling bazaar, where foreign dignitaries, religious leaders, diplomats, and lobbyists jockey for access to the highest reaches of American power. The subculture around the breakfast was thrust into the spotlight with the indictment of Maria Butina, who was charged with conspiring to act as a Russian agent. Her goals, prosecutors said, included gaining access to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication” between influential Russians and Americans “to promote the political interests of the Russian Federation.”

Mueller’s Digging Exposes Culture of Foreign Lobbying and Its Big Paydays
WRAL – Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 8/1/2018

The case against Paul Manafort is part of a broader inquiry into the lucrative work done on behalf of the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and special counsel Robert Mueller has handed some elements of the investigation to federal prosecutors in New York. Beyond Mueller’s office, the Justice Department has also recently been pursuing such cases with greater urgency under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and related to foreign influence operations more broadly. All of this has prompted lobbyists to hunt for advice about how to comply with laws governing that sphere. “The phone rings much more often with this question than it did two years ago,” said Tom Spulak, a partner at the King & Spalding law firm who advises on lobbying compliance.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alaska: Ethics Reform Bill Signed into Law
Cordova Times; Staff –   | Published: 7/27/2018

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill into law that bars lobbyists from buying meals or alcoholic beverages for lawmakers. House Bill 44 also requires that when legislators vote on an issue they or their immediate family have a financial stake in they must disclose it, among other provisions.

California: Combatting Corruption: How effective is the political watchdog Jerry Brown helped create?
CALmatters – Laurel Rosenhall and Robbie Short | Published: 7/25/2018

California voters overwhelmingly approved the Political Reform Act, which also created the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce the new ethics rules championed by Jerry Brown when he first ran for governor in 1974. Yet while Brown rose to power in the 1970s expressing a passion for cleaning up politics, he has not demonstrated the same zeal in the sunset of his career. The idealism of a young candidate has been replaced with the resignation of an experienced politician who seems to doubt how much the government can regulate human foibles.

Florida: Jack Latvala Cleared of Criminal Charges by State Prosecutor
Tampa Bay Times – Steve Bousquet, Mary Ellen Klas, and Emily Mahoney | Published: 7/26/2018

Tallahassee’s state attorney, Jack Campbell, said he could not find enough evidence to charge former Florida Sen. Jack Latvala following claims he engaged in a sex-for-vote scheme. Lobbyist Laura McLeod alleged Latvala intimated on multiple occasions if she had sex with him or let him touch her that he would lend his influential support to issues she was promoting. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) concluded Latvala did not unlawfully exert his influence. Campbell submitted a letter to FDLE concurring there was not enough evidence to support the claims of public corruption.

Georgia: In Georgia Governor’s Race, a Defining Moment for a Southern State
WRAL – Kevin Sack and Alan Blinder (New York Times) | Published: 7/28/2018

Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams has taken on the dimensions of a defining moment, one that will determine what the state represents and how it is perceived. That voters chose these two candidates reflects how Americans are embracing politicians on the basis of culture and identity, and how Georgia’s politics are catching up with its rapid demographic change. More starkly than in most midterm campaigns, the contest between Kemp, the two-term Republican secretary of state, and Abrams, a former Democratic leader in the state Legislature, has come to mirror the polarization of the Trump era and expose the consequences of a primary system that increasingly rewards those who appeal to the fringes.

Illinois: Company Used Convicted Chicago Schools Chief in ‘Highly Unethical’ Work to Win Millions in CPS Business, Watchdog Finds
Chicago Tribune – Juan Perez Jr. | Published: 7/31/2018

A for-profit company that educates at-risk students won tens of millions of dollars from Chicago Public Schools with help from then-district Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennet and her co-conspirators. That “highly unethical conduct” was essential for Camelot Education to open four campuses several years ago, Inspector General Nicholas Schuler said in a report. Schuler’s office asked the Board of Education to disqualify Camelot and two unnamed company executives from future business. If the board concludes doing so would be too disruptive, Schuler recommended the board fine Camelot $6.7 million and appoint an independent monitor to review the company’s conduct for three years.

Maine: Judge Orders LePage to Release Clean Elections Cash
centralmaine.com – Scott Thistle | Published: 8/2/2018

A judge ordered Maine Gov. Paul LePage to release about $1.4 million in campaign funds for candidates running under the state’s clean elections law. The order would provide public funding for the campaigns of about 174 candidates for the Legislature and one candidate running in the governor’s race. The ruling does not affect an additional $4.8 million in clean elections funding that is tied up in a partisan dispute in the state House.

Missouri: Divided KC Council Defeats $5 Gift Proposal – ‘We’re Doing Fine’
Kansas City Star – Bill Turque | Published: 7/26/2018

The Kansas City Council voted down a bill that would limit lobbyists’ gifts and taxpayer-funded travel. The measure slashed the maximum value of gifts from $1,000 to five dollars. It restricted city-funded council and mayoral travel to two trips per four-year term, except when representing the city before the state or federal government. It also doubled from one to two years the time ex-officials must wait before lobbying the city or working as a contractor.

New York: Sheldon Silver, Ex-Assembly Speaker, Gets 7 Years in Prison for Corruption Conviction
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – Jon Campbell | Published: 7/27/2018

Sheldon Silver, the former New York Assembly speaker who brokered legislative deals for two decades before corruption charges abruptly ended his career, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Silver’s initial conviction on the charges in 2015 was tossed out by an appeals court, but a jury once again found him guilty of taking nearly $4 million in return for legislative favors he performed for a cancer researcher and real estate developers. His sentencing comes 10 days after Dean Skelos, the former New York Senate leader, and his son, Adam, were convicted of extortion, wire fraud, and bribery at a retrial for each of them.

North Carolina
‘I Have Not Been Involved,’ NC Supreme Court Justice Says of Bill Targeting Opponent
Raleigh News and Observer – Wil Doran | Published: 7/26/2018

North Carolina legislators took another step that critics say amounted to meddling in this year’s election for a seat on the state Supreme Court. State lawmakers voted along almost entirely partisan lines, deciding that only one of the two Republicans running for the seat would have her party affiliation listed on the ballot. Republicans are worried the candidate the bill affected, Chris Anglin, is not truly a Republican but rather part of a Democratic plot to influence the election. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson said she did not ask for the bill targeting Anglin. Jackson said she hardly ever speaks with legislators about anything to avoid conflicts-of-interest.

Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Pay-to-Play Law Crimps Donations from Political Candidates’ Own Parties
Allentown Morning Call – Tom Shortell | Published: 7/30/2018

Lehigh County’s “pay-to-play” law has become a factor in one of this year’s most closely watched congressional races, with one candidate’s campaign saying it has impeded fundraising. Outside groups have pumped millions of dollars into the race, which they see as a critical swing district in a fight to control Congress. But all that money flowing toward Marty Nothstein’s campaign could create complications in Lehigh County. Because Nothstein is an elected member of the county Board of Commissioners, any donations he would receive from county vendors could trigger the “pay-to-play” provisions.

Vermont: Vermont Campaign-Finance Limits Survive Appeal
Courthouse News Service – Nick Rummell | Published: 7/31/2018

An appeals court ruled Vermont does not trample the First Amendment by hinging public financing of political candidates on their adherence to certain rules. The opinion upholds the dismissal of a lawsuit by a candidate for lieutenant governor who argued his receipt of public financing should not force him to curtail expenditures and contributions from private parties. “Given the free choice to accept the grants and restrictions that public financing entails or to engage in unlimited private fundraising, candidates cannot complain that electing the former course burdens their rights,” Judge Robert Katzmann wrote.