News You Can Use Digest – February 8, 2019

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

 

National:

Inaccurate Claims of Noncitizen Voting in Texas Reflect a Growing Trend in Republican States
Stamford Advocate – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/6/2019

When Texas officials announced in January that as many as 58,000 noncitizens may have voted illegally in state elections over nearly two decades, top Republicans, including President Trump, quickly warned about the prevalence of voter fraud and the need to crack down on it. But just as quickly, the numbers stopped adding up. The secretary of state’s office called local election officials to say thousands of people on the list were in fact American citizens, eligible to vote. The episode is the latest in bungled attempts by states to show that huge numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote and have cast ballots in U.S. elections.

‘It’s the Human Way’: Corruption scandals play out in big cities across U.S.
New York Times – Richard Fausset, Monica Davey, and Tim Arango | Published: 2/5/2019

Four of America’s largest cities – Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia – are under the cloud of major federal corruption investigations. The probes raise questions about whether there can be any lasting cure for the chronic corruption problems that seem to dog big cities, so often dominated by a single party or political machine. The Chicago and Los Angeles metropolitan areas are the two most corrupt in the U.S., based on the number of federal public corruption convictions from 1976 to 2016. Philadelphia comes in at number eight. Atlanta did not make the top 10, but the city’s political atmosphere is influenced by the conviction of former Mayor Bill Campbell on tax evasion charges stemming from an earlier corruption investigation.

Federal:

Firms Recruited by Paul Manafort Investigated Over Foreign Payments
MSN – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 2/5/2019

Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating payments to three law and lobbying firms recruited by Paul Manafort to help improve the image of the president of Ukraine. The previously unreported interviews are among the latest developments in the investigation of key figures who worked at the three firms: Mercury Public Affairs, the Podesta Group, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The case has drawn interest in Washington in part because of the prominence of the three main figures, each of whom has played high-profile roles in politics and lobbying. But it has also sent shock waves through the lobbying industry by underscoring an aggressive legal crackdown on lobbyists and lawyers who do lucrative work representing foreign governments without registering as foreign agents.

K Street in Overdrive as Investigations Ramp Up
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 2/7/2019

Lawmakers this year are vowing to press companies across diverse industries on a number of hot-button issues, including how technology companies are handling consumer data, how the nation’s companies have benefited from the tax law, and how drug makers set their prices. For corporations, a public inquiry into their practices, often with top executives hauled before Congress and cameras, is a worrying prospect. More than ever, businesses are coming to lawyers on K Street to help them handle those unique challenges. Handling congressional investigations requires a complex team with lobbyists who can provide insight into what policymakers are thinking, as well as lawyers who know how to best protect a client’s rights.

Trump Inaugural Committee Ordered to Hand Over Documents to Federal Investigators
MSN – Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess (New York Times) | Published: 2/4/2019

Federal prosecutors in New York delivered a wide-ranging request for documents related to donations and spending by President Trump’s inaugural committee. Investigators showed interest in whether any foreigners illegally donated to the committee, as well as whether committee staff members knew such contributions were illegal, asking for documents laying out legal requirements for donations. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, PACs, and inaugural funds. Prosecutors also requested all documents related to vendors and contractors with the inaugural committee. The subpoena showed the investigations surrounding Trump, once centered on potential ties to Russia during the 2016 election, have spread beyond the special counsel’s office to include virtually all aspects of his adult life.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ Work as a Lobbyist Sparks Criticism in California Capitol
Los Angeles Times – Melody Gutierrez | Published: 2/4/2019

Former California Assemblyperson Sebastian Ridley-Thomas registered as a lobbyist in January, just weeks after an investigation supported claims that he sexually harassed two legislative staffers in 2016. When the allegations were made public, Ridley-Thomas’ first client, the Los Angeles Unified School District, canceled his four-week, $15,000 contract for work in Sacramento. While the Legislature spent much of the past year creating new sexual harassment policies and procedures for lawmakers and its employees, the conduct of lobbyists was largely unaddressed. A lobbyist found to have sexually harassed a legislative staffer or lawmaker might be restricted from going to certain parts of the Capitol, but the Legislature’s power is limited beyond that, said Assemblyperson Laura Friedman.

Connecticut: When the Governor’s Adviser Is Married to a Lobbyist
Connecticut Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 2/1/2019

Colleen Flanagan Johnson is the senior adviser to Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and is married to Michael Johnson, a lobbyist at Sullivan & LeShane. In consultation with the Office of State Ethics and the Lamont administration, Flanagan Johnson said she will not meet with any of her husband’s two dozen clients, and she and her husband will not talk about his clients and the issues on which he lobbies. Flanagan Johnson and Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff, also will decide on a case by case basis if she needs to completely recuse herself from any issue “to avoid even the appearance of a potential conflict-of-interest.” Under the ethics code, which is established by state laws that have not changed in decades, there is no legal bar to Flanagan Johnson acting on any issue of importance to her husband or his employer.

Florida: A Florida Politician Allegedly Made a Habit of Licking Men’s Faces. She’s Now Resigned.
Washington Post – Antonia Noori Farzan | Published: 2/6/2019

Madeira Beach Commissioner Nancy Oakley is being accused of sexually harassing a former city manager. The Florida Commission on Ethics said Oakley possibly violated state law because she was “exhibiting inappropriate behavior” when she licked Shane Crawford’s face at a fishing tournament. The report said there was testimony from multiple witnesses saying Oakley also touched Crawford inappropriately, and that she was intoxicated. Since the issue was brought to light, others have said Oakley behaved in a similar manner. The sponsor of the fishing tournament where Oakley allegedly licked the city manager said she had licked his face and the faces of volunteers at other fishing tournaments. Oakley resigned to avoid being fired.

Indiana: A State Election Panel Won’t Investigate Brian Bosma. Opponents Say the Process Is Rigged.
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 2/7/2019

The Indiana Election Commission declined to investigate House Speaker Brian Bosma’s use of campaign money to uncover unflattering information about a woman who claims she had a sexual encounter with him 27 years ago when she was an intern. A separate House Ethics Committee complaint is still pending. Those who filed the complaints say the process so far appears to be rigged in Bosma’s favor. Both the election and ethics proceedings have taken place largely outside public view and without any notice to those who filed the complaints, including the former intern and her attorney. Bosma and his team were permitted to submit dozens of pages of legal arguments and other materials to the election commission with no opportunity for the person who filed the complaint to respond.

Kentucky: After Democratic Kickback Scheme, State Lawmaker Pushes for Ethics Bill
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 2/5/2019

The bribery, kickbacks, and illegal campaign money revealed in the federal convictions of political operatives Tim Longmeyer and Jim Sullivan demand the General Assembly strengthen laws over those who lobby the state’s executive agencies, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said. Stivers said the legislation he introduced, Senate Bill 6, would be as a step toward reform by requiring disclosure of fees paid to lobbyists who attempt to influence executive agencies, just as fees paid to those who lobby the Legislature have been required to be disclosed for many years. Senate Bill 6 would also clarify what is already in state law – that an executive lobbyist cannot be paid on a contingency fee basis.

Massachusetts: Massachusetts Campaign Finance Regulators Prepared to Lower Unions’ Donation Limit
MassLive.com – Shira Schoenberg | Published: 2/4/2019

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance released draft regulations that would decrease the amount of money a union can contribute to a candidate in Massachusetts from $15,000 a year to $1,000 a year. Under state law until now, unions and trade associations could donate up to $15,000 to a candidate. Individuals can contribute up to $1,000 and businesses cannot give anything. Two business owners challenged the ban in court. They argued that businesses and unions should be subject to the same campaign finance restrictions. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the ban on corporate contributions but noted state law is unclear regarding the different treatment of unions.

Missouri: Barred from Lobbying for Six Months, Ex-Missouri Rep Returns Anyway to Sway Lawmakers
Kansas City Star – Hunter Woodall | Published: 1/31/2019

Less than two months after resigning from office, former state Rep. Kevin Corlew returned to the Missouri Capitol to testify for a national organization in what one watchdog said is an act of stealth lobbying. Some experts question whether his appearance goes against the state’s “revolving door” law prohibiting former lawmakers from quickly returning to lobby their former colleagues in the Legislature. Corlew lost his re-election bid last fall. He then resigned in December, before his term was up, specifically to avoid a new law banning lawmakers from returning to the Capitol as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.

New Mexico: Bill Would Reveal the Cost of a Free Lunch for Lawmakers
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 1/31/2019

Three proposals this year in the New Mexico Legislature would require more thorough reporting of how lobbyists are spending to influence lawmakers and the executive branch. House Bill 133 would require lobbyists to disclose the specific bills they lobbied for or against. House Bill 140 would require principles to file reports at the beginning of the session estimating how much they expect to spend on lobbying, including the compensation to the lobbyists themselves. Senate Bill 191, which was sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, would fix a loophole that allows lobbyists to spend $100 or less on, for example, buying lunch for a lawmaker without ever having to report such costs.

North Dakota: Legislative Lobbyists Feel Their Purpose Is Misunderstood
Inforum.com – Diane Newsberry (North Dakota Newspaper Association) | Published: 2/3/2019

North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said he had concerns about legislation that aims to limit the influence of lobbyists. The legislation comes as a result of last year’s ballot Measure 1, which amended the state constitution to set more guidelines about legislative ethics. Wardner cited wording in Measure 1 which may mean that if a citizen who comes to the Capitol to testify on behalf of themselves spends more than $201 in the process, that person would be classified as a lobbyist. Lobbyists feel they are often misrepresented, especially in public talks about ethics. Scott Meske, a lobbyist with public affairs firm Laventure, said his profession’s primary goal is to be a translator between his clients and lawmakers.

Virginia: Crisis Escalates in Virginia; Top 3 Democrats Under Fire
Associated Press – MSN | Published: 2/6/2019

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged he put on dark makeup and wore a wig while an undergraduate of the University of Virginia in 1980, becoming the second statewide official to admit imitating an African-American. Within hours, Vanessa Tyson put out a detailed statement describing how Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004. Fairfax denies the allegations. The revelations came less than one week after the disclosure of a racist photograph on the yearbook page of Gov. Ralph Northam led to demands for his resignation. The string of scandals could have a domino effect on state government: If Northam and Fairfax fall, Herring would be next in line to become governor. After Herring comes House Speaker Kirk Cox.