News You Can Use Digest – January 11, 2019

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

 

 

 

Federal:

Feds’ GoFundMe Campaigns Open a ‘Minefield’ of Ethical Questions During Shutdown
Federal News Network – Nicole Ogrysko | Published: 1/8/2019

The Office of Government Ethics said employees on unpaid furlough due to the government shutdown remain covered by federal ethics policies. Many of those on furlough are exploring taking outside jobs or applying for unemployment benefits. Some are soliciting donations on “GoFundMe” pages to ease the financial uncertainty of likely missed paychecks. But existing rules open a “minefield” of questions about how the employees can ask for contributions during shutdown furloughs, if at all, said Virginia Canter, an attorney for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Typically, federal employees cannot accept gifts from “prohibited sources,” or organizations that do business with the employee’s agency. With that in mind, federal employees soliciting shutdown donations would need to ensure the source of every contribution.

How a Little-Known Democratic Firm Cashed in On the Wave of Midterm Money
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy | Published: 1/8/2019

Mothership Strategies, a little-known and relatively new digital consulting firm, collected tens of millions of dollars from a tide of small donations that flowed to Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections. The firm’s rapid ascendancy as one of the highest-paid vendors of the election since its launch speaks to how lucrative the explosion of small-dollar contributions has been for a group of political consultants who saw the wave of cash coming and built a business model to capitalize. But Mothership Strategies’ rise also has sparked consternation in Democratic circles because of its aggressive and sometimes misleading tactics. Some call its approach unethical, saying the company profits off stoking fear of Donald Trump and making the sort of exaggerated claims they associate with the president.

Manafort Intended for Polling Data to Go to 2 Ukrainian Oligarchs, a Source Says
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez (CNN) | Published: 1/9/2019

Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, two Ukrainian oligarchs who had paid Paul Manafort for years for his political work in their country, were the intended recipients of American polling data that Manafort shared with Konstantin Kilimnik during the 2016 presidential campaign, a person familiar with the matter said. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been circling Lyovochkin and Akhmetov’s dealings with Manafort, as they were both generous backers of Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying work. Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni confirmed Manafort expected to receive the $2.4 million in income from his Ukrainian political backers, including Lyovochkin and Akhmetov. But the money was meant to reimburse old debts that predated the Trump campaign, spokesman Maloni added, and it was not a quid pro quo for the polling data.

Supreme Court to Hear Cases on Partisan Gerrymandering in Maryland, N. Carolina
Salt Lake Tribune – Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 1/4/2019

The U.S. Supreme Court once again will take up unresolved constitutional questions about partisan gerrymandering, agreeing to consider rulings from two lower courts that found congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland so extreme they violated the rights of voters. The North Carolina map was drawn by Republicans, the Maryland districts by the state’s dominant Democrats. The Supreme Court has never found a state’s redistricting map so infected with politics that it violates the Constitution. It passed up the chance last term to settle the issue of whether courts have a role in policing partisan gerrymandering, sending back on technical rulings challenges to a Republican-drawn plan in Wisconsin, and the challenged Maryland map. But there will be a new set of justices considering the issue.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Secret Campaign to Use Russian-Inspired Tactics in 2017 Ala. Election Stirs Anxiety for Democrats
Denver Post – Craig Timberg, Tony Romm, Aaron Davis, and Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) | Published: 1/6/2019

A secret effort to influence the 2017 U.S. Senate election in Alabama used tactics inspired by Russian disinformation teams, including the creation of fake accounts to deliver misleading messages on Facebook to help elect Democrat Doug Jones in the deeply red state. But unlike the 2016 presidential campaign when Russians worked to help elect Donald Trump, the people behind the Alabama effort, dubbed Project Birmingham, were Americans. Now Democratic operatives and a research firm known to have had roles in Project Birmingham are distancing themselves from its most controversial tactics. Jones’s upset victory over Roy Moore in all likelihood resulted from other factors, political analysts say. But news of the effort has underscored the warnings of disinformation experts who have said threats to transparent political discourse in the age of social media are as likely to be domestic as foreign.

California: As Fires Ravaged California, Utilities Lobbied Lawmakers for Protection
MSN – Ivan Penn (New York Times) | Published: 1/5/2019

As more wildfires are traced to equipment owned by California’s investor-owned utilities, the largest, Pacific Gas and Electric, could ultimately have to pay homeowners and others an estimated $30 billion for causing fires over the last two years. Realizing their potential fire liability is large enough to bankrupt them, the utility companies are spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. Their goal is a law that would allow them to pass on the cost of wildfires to their customers in the form of higher electricity rates. After an earlier lobbying push, legislators have already voted to protect the companies from having to bear the cost of fires in 2017, and utilities are seeking the same for 2018.

California: Irvine City Council Strengthens Lobbyist Policy
Voice of OC – Spencer Custodio | Published: 1/10/2019

The Irvine City Council strengthened its conflict-of-interest policy by adding a provision to its contracts which says if a council member or employee lobbied on behalf of a city contractor, the contract can be voided with cause and the city will get reimbursed. While there was a similar contract provision preventing employment of a city official by a city contractor, it did not address lobbying services – paid or unpaid.

Connecticut: Under the Influence: Marijuana industry seeks ruling on legality of political contributions in Connecticut
Hartford Courant – Neil Vigdor | Published: 1/8/2019

The pioneers of Connecticut’s growing medical marijuana industry say they should be allowed to donate to lawmakers who could make the state the next lucrative frontier for recreational cannabis. State election regulators came to the opposite conclusion on an informal basis early last year, finding medical marijuana growers and dispensaries are subject to the same ban on campaign contributions by state contractors under state law. But those business owners are disputing that “licensing arrangements” between the state and 18 dispensaries are contracts. They petitioned the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a formal ruling on their status.

Georgia: State Ethics Director Put on Paid Leave Over Porn, Misconduct Allegations
WSB – Richard Belcher | Published: 1/8/2019

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission voted to put Executive Director Stefan Ritter on paid leave and conduct an investigation after allegations he had pornography on his work computer. There also were complaints about his job performance, including irregular work hours. Ritter, who worked for over a decade as an assistant attorney general before taking over the commission, has been credited with cleaning up the troubled agency, reducing backlogs, and helping get raises for staff.

Maryland: Federal Judge Stops Enforcement of Maryland Election Law
Courthouse News Service – Edward Ericson Jr. | Published: 1/4/2019

A federal judge enjoined Maryland from enforcing a law aimed at preventing foreign interference in state elections while a challenge by a group of newspapers plays out in court. The Online Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act requires platforms with more than 100,000 monthly visitors to publish the names and contact information for any purchaser of a “qualifying paid digital communication,” along with the price paid, among other provisions. Some of the information the law demands is proprietary, such as how many people the ads reached. Much of the rest, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm found, is duplicative.

Michigan: Whitmer Choice Raises Questions About State’s Conflicts of Interest Laws
Detroit Free Press – Paul Egan | Published: 1/7/2019

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer named Orlene Hawks as director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), an agency with responsibilities that include oversight of Michigan’s new marijuana industry, liquor licensing, the regulation of utilities, and licensing of doctors and hospitals. Hawks is married to Michael Hawks, an owner and principal of Government Consultant Services Inc., which represents many clients affected by the policies and rulings of LARA and its sub-agencies. An ethics expert said the potential issues raised by the situation underline a need for stronger financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws in Michigan.

Montana: Montana’s Dark Money Detective
Pacific Standard – Jimmy Tobias | Published: 1/9/2019

With a history of ant-corporate populism and intimate electoral campaigns, Montana is the sort of place where someone can run for office without a lot of money and still stand a chance. It is a state with just a million people and little tolerance for big money meddling in elections. As the former commissioner of political practices, Jonathan Motl set an example for other states that are also contending with the influence of unaccountable election spending. A ruling by the state Supreme Court upholding a conviction against former Sen. Art Wittich for corruption and violating campaign finance laws was a vindication and a climactic moment in Montana’s anti-corruption efforts.

Oklahoma: Stitt Unveils Plan to Address Potential Business Conflicts
Oklahoma Watch – Paul Monies | Published: 1/7/2019

Incoming Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is asking the state attorney general to review his plan to step away from his mortgage company as it becomes a bank and to approve a conflict-of-interest policy for his family investments. Stitt is facing potential conflicts-of-interest related to Gateway Mortgage Group, which he founded, and possibly some real estate and other personal investments. The first step in this shift from private businessperson to public official has to do with the state banking commission. Stitt pledged to have no contact with the state banking commissioner on Gateway-related matters, as it is converting to a bank. The governor appoints the banking commissioner and members of the state banking board.

Oregon: BOLI Finds ‘Substantial Evidence’ of Sexual Harassment at Oregon Capitol
Portland Oregonian – Ted Sickinger and Hillary Borrud | Published: 1/3/2019

Oregon labor regulators found “substantial evidence” of sexual harassment at the Capitol, concluding that lawmakers and administrators have known about it for years and did little to stop it. The Bureau of Labor and Industries released its findings after a five-month investigation, as well as a laundry list of allegations gleaned from witness interviews conducted by agency investigators, legislative analysts, and an attorney hired by the Legislature to investigate the harassment claims. The report concludes the most powerful lawmakers and administrators in the Capitol mishandled, downplayed and ignored allegations of sexual harassment, including inappropriate touching, sexually suggestive language, and the lopsided power dynamics that enabled the behavior.

Washington: From Campaign Consultant to Lobbyist and Adviser: The firm that has Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s ear
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman and Lewis Kamb | Published: 1/6/2019

Political operatives Sandeep Kaushik and Kelly Evans helped Jenny Durkan win Seattle’s mayoral race in 2017. As Durkin embarks on her second year, they and their company, Sound View Strategies, have emerged as key players at City Hall. They successfully ran the mayor’s campaign for a $600 million education levy. Durkan’s major-initiatives director, office administrator, and chief of staff all are former Sound View employees. Kaushik describes himself and Evans as members of Durkan’s informal “kitchen cabinet,” even as they lobby her administration and advocate for corporate clients such as Comcast and Airnub. The mayor downplayed Sound View’s clout. Her ties to the company are known, and the city’s requirements are adequate to protect against real and perceived conflicts, Durkin said.