News You Can Use Digest – July 27, 2018

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

 

 

 

Federal:

In Ruling Against Trump, Judge Defines Anticorruption Clauses in Constitution for First Time
WRAL – Sharon LaFraniere (New York Times) | Published: 7/25/2018

A federal judge rejected President Trump’s effort to block a lawsuit that alleges he is violating the Constitution by continuing to do business with foreign governments. The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia claim Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts or benefits from foreign governments without congressional approval. In the first judicial opinion to define how the meaning of the Constitution’s anticorruption clauses should apply to a president, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte said the framers’ language should be broadly construed as an effort to protect against influence-peddling by state and foreign governments.

Mueller Examining Trump’s Tweets in Wide-Ranging Obstruction Inquiry
MSN – Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 7/26/2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from President Trump about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey, according to people briefed on the matter. Several of the remarks came as Trump was also privately pressuring the men – both key witnesses in the inquiry – about the probe, and Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry. Mueller’s interest in them is the latest addition to a range of presidential actions he is investigating as a possible obstruction case, like misleading White House statements, public attacks, and possible pardon offers to potential witnesses.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Rep. Randy Davis Indicted on Bribery Charges
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 7/25/2018

Alabama Rep. Randy Davis was indicted on charges of conspiracy and bribery over what prosecutors describe as an attempt to pressure Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) to cover insulin therapies offered in health clinics in which he had a financial interest. The indictment accuses Davis of working with former Rep. Micky Hammon, an investor in the clinics, to recruit investors, from which he received finders’ fees. Prosecutors also accused Davis of trying to lobby BCBS on behalf of Trina Health, which operated the clinics. Later, the indictment alleges, Davis and Hammon worked together to push a bill through the 2016 legislative session that would have forced coverage of the insulin treatment offered at the clinics.

California: New Head of California Political Watchdog Agency Says It Is Moving on After Period of Tumult
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 7/22/2018

Alice Germond is taking over an agency that has been mired in turmoil for months following a dispute between commissioners over the sharing of power. But the new chairperson of the California Fair Political Practices Commission said she has talked to the other commissioners and believes the panel can put the past behind them to focus on enforcing campaign finance laws ahead of the midterm elections in November. A power struggle in recent months pitted some part-time commissioners against the chairperson at the time, Jodi Remke, who they felt left them out of key decisions on budgets, personnel, legal issues, and policy changes.

Colorado: Colorado Campaign Finance Loophole Allows Dark Money Flyers
Colorado Independent – Sandra Fish | Published: 7/23/2018

Colorado’s campaign finance law has a loophole that allows printed literature, mailers, or other materials about candidates to be distributed without disclosing who paid for them if they do not include so-called magic words such as “vote for” or “vote against.” Colorado was one of only 10 states that did not require disclosure of an ad’s sponsor in the 2016 election cycle. It is a form of “dark money” that prevents voters from tracing who is behind a campaign message.

Florida: South Miami’s Mayor Shut Down an Opponent at Meetings. Now He Faces an Investigation.
Miami Herald – Aaron Leibowitz | Published: 7/18/2018

When Stephen Cody approached the podium at a South Miami commission meeting, Mayor Philip Stoddard had a good idea of what he might say. A few days earlier, a group that Cody created criticized Stoddard for the city’s firing of its former police chief and a resulting lawsuit. Stoddard refused to let Cody speak and demanded he first register as a lobbyist. When Cody returned to the commission the next month, without having registered, Stoddard again cut him off when he began to discuss the police chief’s firing. The county ethics commission ruled there was probable cause Stoddard had violated Cody’s “right to be heard” under the county’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights.

Georgia: Georgia State Rep. Jason Spencer to Resign in Wake of Sacha Baron Cohen Pants-Dropping Debacle
MSN – Meagan Flynn (Washington Post) | Published: 7/24/2018

Georgia Rep. Jason Spencer, who was fooled into repeatedly yelling a racial epithet on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s television show, intends to resign effective July 31. “Who Is America?” has pranked a long list of sitting and former lawmakers. In this segment, Cohen played an Israeli antiterrorism expert and Spencer was seen on camera dropping his pants, mocking a stereotypical Asian accent, and seemingly not requiring much coaxing to yell the racial epithet, spurring immediate outrage. Spencer lost in the primary in his bid for a fifth term and initially said he would serve out his final months, but calls for him to resign became too loud.

Illinois: Rauner Blasts Chicago Mayoral Candidate Willie Wilson’s Cash Giveaway, State Says He Didn’t Violate Campaign Rules
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne and Rick Pearson | Published: 7/23/2018

The Illinois State Board of Elections said Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s handing out of nearly $200,000 in checks at a recent church event did not break campaign finance laws. A campaign spokesperson said Wilson gave the money to people to help them cover the cost of their property taxes and other expenses as part of his philanthropic work through the Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation, a registered nonprofit. “As far as we can see, it looks like he didn’t use campaign funds for this and there doesn’t appear to have been any quid pro quo, like, ‘Here’s some money, vote for me,'” said elections board spokesperson Matt Dietrich. “So, from our perspective, it doesn’t look like there was anything illegal about this.”

Indiana: Secret Donations to Fuel Hill’s Defense Against Groping Allegations
Indianapolis Star Tribune – Tony Cook, Kaitlin Lange, and Ryan Martin | Published: 7/23/2018

Supporters of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill have set up a legal fund to defend him against accusations that he inappropriately touched four women. Attorney Jim Bopp announced the creation of Fairness for Curtis Hill, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization formed to collect tax deductible funds for Hill’s defense. Some tax and campaign finance experts questioned whether the new fund could even operate as a charitable nonprofit under the law. Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at Notre Dame, said a 501(c)(3) charity cannot benefit one person. Usually defending public officials from allegations also is not considered charitable, he said. “The name alone should have been a red flag for the IRS,” Mayer said.

Maine: Ethics Commission to Delay Clean Elections Funding Until Court Ruling
Lewiston Sun Journal – Colin Ellis | Published: 7/25/2018

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices delayed action on Clean Elections in the hope that a court ruling on the matter might be issued soon but did not rule out the possibility of calling a special meeting should the money continue to be held back. Commissioners agreed it was unfair that certain candidates have not received funding ahead of the November election but said they were not in a position to release funding at this point. Gov. Paul LePage has refused to release $1.4 million in public funding for Clean Election candidates, and Republican House members have refused to fix a typographical error in the law that provides additional funds to be used this year.

Montana: Gov. Bullock Sues IRS Over Decision to Stop Requiring Some Tax-Exempt Groups to Identify Donors
Helena Independent Record – Amy Beth Hanson (Associated Press) | Published: 7/24/2018

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock sued the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury Department to stop them from removing requirements that politically active nonprofits disclose their donors’ identities. Bullock said the Trump administration failed to give proper notice of or seek public comment on changes to the decades-old rule requiring such disclosure. He is asking a federal judge to find the rollback illegal and set it aside. This is the third time in recent months that Bullock has inserted himself and Montana into national issues and continues his efforts in support of transparent elections.

New York: Who Needs Small Donors When You Have Friends? Ask Gov. Cuomo.
WRAL – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 7/17/2018

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has always relied on large donations to accumulate a $31.1 million campaign account. But even as he emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s most prolific fundraisers, he has all but ignored grassroots contributors. Now, mindful of the party’s insurgency, and facing a primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, the governor has raced to find small donors. But disclosures revealed the extent to which Cuomo remains dependent on big donors, and some of the maneuvers undertaken to obscure that fact. One donor gave 69 times to Cuomo in the final days before the deadline – 67 of them one-dollar donations, driving down his average contribution size.

North Dakota: Anti-Corruption Measure Headed for North Dakota Ballot
West Fargo Pioneer – John Hageman | Published: 7/23/2018

North Dakota voters will decide whether to add anti-corruption language to the state’s constitution this fall. A ballot measure would prevent lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials and would establish an ethics commission that could investigate officials, candidates, and lobbyists. It would also prevent public officials from being a lobbyist while holding office and for two years after leaving their post. State lawmakers would be required to pass legislation mandating “public disclosure of the ultimate and true source of funds” spent to influence elections and government actions.

Ohio: Cincinnati Firm Lobbies for Taxpayers – and Companies That Want Their Money
Cincinnati Enquirer – Dan Horn | Published: 7/23/2018

Anne Sesler once acted as spokesperson for both FC Cincinnati and Hamilton County simultaneously. That is because Government Strategies Group, a firm for which Sesler is a consultant, is paid by both the county and the new Major League Soccer team to handle their lobbying and communications work. The county hired her in 2017 and the team hired her in January. Some say that is a conflict because the interests of FC Cincinnati and Hamilton County are not the same: FC Cincinnati needed $15 million last year for a stadium parking garage and taxpayers picked up the tab. And those are not the only Government Strategies clients with interests that sometimes overlap.

Pennsylvania: Board of Ethics Says Pro-Soda Tax Coalition Violated Lobbying Law
Philadelphia Business Journal – Alison Burdo | Published: 7/20/2018

The leading group that pushed for passage of Philadelphia’s controversial soda tax agreed to pay $8,000 in civil penalties after the Board of Ethics cited it for violations of the city’s lobbying law. Philadelphians for a Fair Future (PFF) formed in 2016 and raised more than $2 million to promote the tax, which was proposed by Mayor Jim Kenney. The board found the group gave incomplete information in required reports on its spending. In addition, four companies and individuals PFF employed to lobby failed to register as required.