News You Can Use Digest – February 16, 2019

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

 

 

 

Federal:

Ex-Lawmakers Face New Scrutiny Over Lobbying
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 2/12/2019

Critics say former federal lawmakers have been the biggest offenders when it comes to working as lobbyists without formally registering. Forty-eight former senators and 295 former representatives were registered lobbyists in the last Congress, and that number is growing as the latest exiting class of lawmakers join firms. Some note the law has loopholes for determining when someone must register. The Lobbying Disclosure Act states that a person must register to lobby if lobbying activities constitute at least 20 percent of their time working for a client. That allows many former members who work for lobbying shops and big firms to handle policy issues but avoid crossing the line to require registering as a lobbyist.

FEC Raises Contribution Limits for 2020
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 2/7/2019

The FEC announced new higher campaign contribution limits. Donors would be able to give up to $2,800 per election, including both the primary and the general election contests, in the new cycle, a $100 increase over the 2018 cycle. Individuals will be allowed to contribute up to $35,500 to party accounts like the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee every year. The commission raises the cap every two years under a provision in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

National Enquirer’s Parent Firm Asked U.S. If It Should Register as Foreign Agent for Saudis
NBC News – Josh Lederman | Published: 2/11/2019

The company that publishes the National Enquirer was concerned enough that it may have acted as an agent of Saudi Arabia that it asked the Department of Justice last year whether it needed to register as a foreign lobbyist. Communications between the Justice Department and American Media Inc. offer the fullest picture to date of interactions between the tabloid publisher and the Saudis ahead of AMI’s release last year of flattering magazine about Saudi Arabia’s young leader. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people or entities that work to advance a foreign country’s political interests in the U.S. must disclose their specific activities and register as foreign lobbyists.

Ocasio-Cortez Learned Lobbyists Pay People to Avoid Waiting in Lines in D.C. She’s Not Pleased.
MSN – Eli Rosenberg (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2019

Paying people to wait in line to get prime seats at Capitol Hill hearings is a once-controversial maneuver that has now become accepted practice. Critics say line-standing or line-waiting is a small but visible example of how money affects politics in Washington – how people with resources buy access to lawmakers as they deliberate legislation. The practice, which is expensive but not illegal, has long been a popular one for lobbyists. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is experiencing life as a legislator in Washington for the first time, tweeted her reaction to seeing a line of people waiting for a committee hearing: “Shock doesn’t begin to cover it. Apparently this is a normal practice, and people don’t bat an eye.”

From the States and Municipalities:

California: To Do Business with L.A., City Contractors Now Must Disclose Ties with the NRA
Los Angeles Times – Dakota Smith | Published: 2/12/2019

The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance that requires companies seeking contracts with the city to disclose any ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Prospective contractors now must disclose under affidavit any contracts or sponsorships they or their subsidiaries have with the NRA. The city has similar policies about companies involved in the construction of President Trump’s proposed border wall. The NRA disclosure law contains more than a dozen exemptions, including contracts involving the city’s pension funds and other investment agreements. Still, attorneys for the NRA said they would file a lawsuit if the ordinance passed, according to a letter sent to the city.

Colorado: High Cost of Influence: $33 million spent last year lobbying Colorado lawmakers
Denver Post – Nic Garcia | Published: 2/7/2019

More than $33 million was spent lobbying Colorado lawmakers in 2018. Lawmakers sometimes rely on lobbyists for expertise and resources the politicians do not have. They fill a knowledge gap for state lawmakers, who have slim staffs to help research and write legislation. Also, because lawmakers can only serve eight years in each chamber, they are limited in the institutional knowledge they can build. Critics say that gives lobbyists access and influence the general public does not always have. “They obviously provide information that is favorable to their clients and not the whole picture,” said Paul Teske, dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Florida: The Lawmaker Who Dressed in Blackface Is Pushing an Ethics Bill Today. Does It Matter?
Tampa Bay Times – Lawrence Mower | Published: 2/12/2019

Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini has been making national headlines for wearing blackface in a high school prank 14 years ago. It has not stopped him from pushing numerous bills in Tallahassee, including a sweeping bill that would strengthen the state’s ethics laws. It includes provisions that would ban officials from getting investment advice from lobbyists, require lobbyists who influence the executive branch to register online, and make it illegal for officials to seek jobs that conflict with their lawmaking duties. Sabatini he initially felt terrible for anyone who saw the photograph and did not understand the context. But as the story grew, he felt some news reports were using the incident to be sensational, and he has since refused to apologize.

Georgia: State Ethics Commissioners Move to Fill Executive Secretary’s Post After Resignation
Yahoo Finance – R. Robin McDonald (ALM Media) | Published: 2/11/2019

Stefan Ritter resigned as executive secretary of the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission after being placed on paid leave amid accusations he misused his state-issued computer. Three formal complaints revealed Ritter’s departure stemmed from the discovery by commission staff of “hundreds of pornographic images” on his computer that at least one staff member observed Ritter viewing in the office. The complaints accused him of instructing staff not to open inquiries of multiple candidates in the 2017 Atlanta mayoral race who staffers believed may have violated state campaign finance laws. Ritter also was accused of making a similar call regarding possible campaign violations by Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign.

Indiana: Veteran Agency’s Secretive Deal with Former State Senator Possibly Violated Lobbying Laws
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook and Chris Sikich | Published: 2/14/2019

After a state lawmaker pushed to expand the reach of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), the agency awarded him a secretive, and possibly illegal, lobbying contract that has paid him more than $150,000. The deal, signed nine months after former state Sen. Allen Paul left office, appears to run afoul of Indiana’s “revolving door” law meant to curb politicians from cashing in on government service. Paul also failed to register as a lobbyist. While the contract was in effect, Paul rarely showed up at the office, interacted little with key lawmakers, and did not maintain an account of the hours he worked. Paul continued to be paid even after the IDVA hired a full-time employee to do essentially the same job.

Michigan: Benson: Pro-Whitmer group broke campaign finance law, will pay fine
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 2/8/2019

A group that ran television ads last year featuring Gov. Gretchen Whitmer violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and has agreed to pay a $37,500 settlement, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. Build a Better Michigan spent more than $2.4 million in 2018 and ran a series of pro-Whitmer ads it described as a form of “issue advocacy” traditionally exempt from the law. But some of those ads violated the statute by identifying Whitmer as a “candidate for governor,” Benson said. Benson also ruled the group’s spending could not be considered an “independent expenditure” because of apparent coordination between the group and Whitmer’s campaign.

New York: Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal
Gotham Gazette – Lysette Voytko | Published: 2/10/2019

One provision of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reform agenda would require any individual or organization spending over $500 in a year on lobbying to be required to register as a lobbyist, lowering the threshold from $5,000. The proposal is sparking outcry from nonprofit leaders and others, who say the proposal would harm smaller organizations and activist groups that do little formal lobbying and cannot afford the labor or time to navigate the state’s complex lobbying regulations. “Perversely, while this might increase the number of filings, it will effectively silence small groups while increasing the influence of big money in government,” states a letter from 15 nonprofits.

Texas: In Texas, More Than a Million Dollars in Ethics Fines Have Gone Unpaid
Texas Monitor – Johnny Kampis | Published: 2/7/2019

Data from the Texas Ethics Commission shows state Rep. Ron Reynolds owes $52,500 in fines for failing to file timely personal finance statements required for all candidates. Reynolds is one of the worst offenders in terms of unpaid ethics fines, but he is far from alone in thumbing his nose at the commission. As of the most recent updating on February 4, the ethics agency’s delinquent filer list shows that Texas officeholders and candidates owe more than $1.3 million in fines for being lax on those financial statements.

Virginia: Virginia Democrats Looking for a Clear Path Forward from Scandals
San Francisco Chronicle – Amy Gardner and Jenna Portnoy (Washington Post) | Published: 2/10/2019

Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are staying, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is fighting, and Virginia Democrats are grappling with how to proceed in a situation with no precedent and no one leading the way out of one of the party’s most disastrous periods in history. More than a week has passed since images emerged of Northam’s medical school yearbook page depicting a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Since then, two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault and Herring has admitted he wore blackface as a young man. As a group, Democrats in the state publicly embraced their party’s zero tolerance for racism and sexual violence. But privately, Democrats are divided, particularly about whether ousting Northam is best for their party.

Washington: Seattle Ethics Commission May Shine Light on Political Work, City Hall Lobbying
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman | Published: 2/12/2019

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission may require lobbyists to report the work they do for political campaigns. The debate follows a Seattle Times story about partners at Sound View Strategies who helped elect Mayor Jenny Durkan and have given her informal political advice. They have also been paid by corporate clients to lobby Durkan’s administration on legislation and advocate at City Hall on regulatory matters. Though Seattle already requires candidates to disclose their payments to consultants and mandates lobbyists list their payments from clients, those activities are reported separately and differently, so it can be hard to connect the dots.