News You Can Use Digest – January 5, 2018

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

‘Fake News’: Wide reach but little impact, study suggests
New York Times – Benedict Carey | Published: 1/2/2018

Fake news evolved from Internet sideshow to serious electoral threat so quickly that behavioral scientists had little time to answer basic questions about it. But now the first hard data on fake-news consumption has arrived. Researchers posted an analysis of the browsing histories of thousands of adults during the run-up to the 2016 election, a real-time picture of who viewed which fake stories, and what real news those people were seeing at the same time. The reach of fake news was wide indeed, the study found, yet also shallow.

Partisans, Wielding Money, Begin Seeking to Exploit Harassment Claims
New York Times – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 12/31/2017

As the #MeToo movement to expose sexual harassment roils the nation’s capital, political partisans are exploiting the moment, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support accusers who come forward with charges against President Trump and members of Congress, even amid questions about their motivation. As accusations take on a partisan tint, activists and lawyers fear such an evolution could damage a movement that has shaken Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Congress – and has taken down both a Democratic fundraiser, Harvey Weinstein, and a conservative stalwart, Bill O’Reilly.

The Modern Campaign-Finance Loophole: Governors Associations
MSN – Susan Pulliam and Brody Mullins (Wall Street Journal) | Published: 1/2/2018

Companies have found a loophole in state campaign finance rules by funneling donations through the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and its Democratic counterpart. Donors cannot earmark money for a candidate. Instead, they can simply – and legally – tell the groups they have “an interest” in a race or are contributing “at the request” of a candidate. Companies can give unlimited sums to outside groups that support candidates, but those contributions are generally disclosed. Corporate donations to the governors’ associations are also disclosed, but once the money is given to campaigns or organizations supporting them, it is labeled as coming from the RGA or the Democratic Governors Association.

Federal:

How the Russia Inquiry Began: A campaign aide, drinks and talk of political dirt
New York Times – Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti, and Mat Apuzzo | Published: 12/30/2017

The hacking of Democratic emails and the revelation that a member of Donald Trump’s campaign, George Papadopoulos, may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Trump’s associates conspired. If Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful, and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.

Trump Disbands Commission on Voter Fraud
New York Times – Michael Tackett and Michael Wines | Published: 1/3/2018

President Trump announced he is disbanding a controversial panel studying alleged voter fraud that became mired in multiple federal lawsuits and faced resistance from states accusing it of overreach. The decision is a major setback for Trump, who created the commission last year in response to his claim, for which he provided no proof, that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 because of millions of illegally cast ballots. The commission met only twice amid the series of lawsuits seeking to curb its authority and claims by Democrats that it was stacked to recommend voting restrictions favorable to the president’s party.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – L.A. Could Exempt Many Nonprofits from Revealing Lobbying
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 12/31/2017

Los Angeles requires people who are paid to try to influence city officials on municipal legislation to register and turn in regular reports on their spending. But it currently exempts some nonprofits from having to register and report their lobbying. The Ethics Commission recommended the city expand its current exemption, allowing any 501(c)(3) organization that gets less than $2 million in total income annually to avoid registering. The commission also recommended exempting any 501(c)(3) nonprofits that were formed primarily to provide assistance to disadvantaged people at reduced rates, no matter how much money they took in.

Florida – Tallahassee Commission Approves Separation Package for City Manager
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeffrey Schweers | Published: 1/3/2018

The Tallahassee City Commission accepted the resignation of City Manager Rick Fernandez. He was on paid administrative leave since November following an investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics. He was accused of accepting football tickets to a Florida State University football game and receiving a $5,000 catering discount from the city-backed restaurant, The Edison. The tickets were arranged by a lobbying firm owned by Adam Corey, who also owns The Edison. Corey is one of several individuals named in federal subpoenas exploring dealings between the city Community Redevelopment Agency and several high-profile businesspeople.

Massachusetts – Pro-Charter School Group Fined for Hiding 2016 Campaign Donors including Mitt Romney’s Campaign
MassLive – Shira Schoenberg | Published: 1/2/2018

Massachusetts campaign finance officials have required a group that funneled large donations to 2016 ballot questions regarding charter schools and marijuana legalization to disclose the identity of their donors. Officials said Strong Economy for Growth raised and spent $1,168,000 to support the ballot questions. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance required Strong Economy for Growth to form a ballot question committee, disclose its donors, and pay $31,000 to the state for violating campaign finance laws – all the money left in its bank account. The group also agreed not to engage in any election-related activity in Massachusetts through 2018.

Michigan – FBI Wiretaps Reveal How Towing Titan Fiore Built His Empire
Detroit Free Press – Tresa Baldas and Keith Matheny | Published: 12/29/2017

Towing company owner Gasper Fiore was so politically connected that his daughter last year helped write an amendment to the Michigan Department of Transportation budget that ensured his company would win a multimillion-dollar contract, federal documents show. In wiretap evidence, the FBI offers a glimpse into how the Fiore built his towing empire by currying favor with high ranking officials across southeast Michigan. While Fiore has admitted to bribing just one Macomb County official, the FBI says he was in cahoots for years with many, from state lawmakers to police officials to a Detroit councilperson who was dating his daughter.

Missouri – Ethics Complaint Against Big Missouri Campaign Donor is Dismissed
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 1/2/2018

The Missouri Ethics Commission said it “finds no reasonable grounds” to believe businessperson David Humphreys violated state law governing lobbyists and the principals who employ them. State Rep. Mark Ellebracht filed the complaint against Humphreys, who along with his family donated more than $14 million to mostly Republican candidates and campaigns in 2016. At the center of the complaint was Paul Mouton, who was fined last year for illegally lobbying lawmakers on Humphreys behalf without registering.

New York – Howe Emailed Cuomo Officials on Private Accounts
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 12/30/2017

In the years before he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, lobbyist Todd Howe regularly emailed top officials in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration about government business using their personal email accounts. The use of private email for public business would violate official state policy, and is contrary to Cuomo administration directives to conduct state business on state email accounts, to avoid the perception of an intent to hide communication from the public.

Oregon – Oregon Ethics Report Reveals New Details of How Cylvia Hayes Used Her Position to Profit
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 1/4/2018

Former Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes violated state ethics laws by using her position for the financial benefit of herself and her business, failing to avoid conflicts-of-interest, and receiving a gift of greater than $50, according to an investigation. Her fiancé, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned in 2015 amid influence peddling allegations related to her contracting. He faces an ongoing inquiry by the state’s ethics watchdog agency. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will vote whether to agree with the recommendation that violations took place. If so, Hayes will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling.

South Carolina – Golf, Beaches and Power: How utilities wine and dine the public officials that set your rates
Charleston Post and Courier – Andrew Brown | Published: 12/30/2017

Travel and other records reveal how South Carolina’s public service commissioners frequently eat, drink, and play golf with the people they regulate. They also show how on trip after trip, commissioners failed to properly report these as gifts as required under state ethics laws. Selected by state lawmakers, these regulators serve four-year terms and earn more than $100,000. They are supposed to be impartial, balancing the needs of utilities to make fair returns on investments with the rights of customers to pay fair rates. But the analysis of state travel records paints a picture of cozy gatherings and opportunities for influence-peddling.

Virginia – A Random Drawing Out of a Bowl Helped Republicans Win a Tied Virginia Election.
Washington Post – Laura Vozella | Published: 1/4/2018

An official of the Virginia State Board of Elections pulled out the name of Republican David Yancey from a bowl, breaking a tied race that is pivotal to control of the House of Delegates. The outcome means the House remains narrowly in the GOP hands, 51 seats to 49. The spectacle drew national attention as an odd way to decide a highly consequential contest. But it might not be the last word in the saga.

Washington – With Veto of City Council Ordinance, Condon Says Campaign Finance Better Left to the State
Spokane Spokesman-Review – Chad Sokol | Published: 12/29/2017

Spokane Mayor David Condon said he would veto a campaign finance ordinance passed by the city council that would impose new reporting requirements and halve the maximum amount a candidate can receive from any single donor. The mayor said he supports certain efforts to curb the role of “dark money” in politics. But he said the issue is better managed at the state level and predicted the proposed ordinance would not stand up to constitutional challenges.

 

State and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.