News You Can Use Digest – June 29, 2018

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

 

 

 

National:

Voting Machine Vendor Treated Election Officials to Trips to Vegas, Elsewhere
McClatchy DC – Greg Gordon, Amy Renee Leiker (Wichita Eagle), Jamie Self (The State), and Stanley Dunlap (Macon Telegraph) | Published: 6/21/2018

Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the nation’s largest voting equipment vendor, has sought to cement relationships with government officials, some of whom play roles in the award of millions of dollars in contracts. Ethics experts and election watchdogs say the company’s hospitality and hobnobbing with government officials is potentially corrupting. ES&S has for years invited state and local elections officials to serve on an “advisory board” that gathers twice annually for company-sponsored conferences. “It’s highly inappropriate for any election official to be accepting anything of value from a primary contractor …,” said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Federal:

New Emails Suggest Scott Pruitt Discussed Hiring a Friend of Lobbyist Landlord
MSN – Lisa Friedman and Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times) | Published: 6/24/2018

The lobbyist whose wife rented Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt a room in a Capitol Hill condominium at a discounted rate lobbied Pruitt’s chief of staff to hire a family friend. The exchange is among several previously undisclosed interactions that show how J. Steven Hart, who served as chairperson of the law firm Williams & Jensen until earlier this year, sought to exert influence over decisions at the agency even as his spouse was renting Pruitt a $50-a-night room in an upscale condo blocks from the Capitol. Emails also appear to undermine initial arguments that Hart had not lobbied the EPA during Pruitt’s tenure.

The Latest Sign of Political Divide: Shaming and shunning public officials
MSN – Mary Jordan (Washington Post) | Published: 6/24/2018

Few laws expressly prohibit a business from refusing service to a customer because of political views. Civil rights lawyers said while there have been many cases in recent history involving establishments barring black people, women, or members of the LGBT community, shunning people for their political ideology or affiliation has been relatively uncommon – until now. And in a time of intense political division, social media is magnifying the confrontations. Many who disagree with the policies and tone of President Trump and his administration think silence is complicity. But others, even those who vehemently oppose the administration’s politics, do not agree with such aggressive pushback.

Who Should File as a Foreign Agent Is a Tough One to Figure Out
Bloomberg Government – Ken Doyle | Published: 6/26/2018

Until recently, advisory letters from the U.S. Department of Justice on the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) were kept confidential. Now that more than 50 of them have been made public, the trove of documents shows how complicated it is to hew to the law. Is there an easy explanation of who’s a foreign agent? “The short answer is no,” said attorney Jason Abel, who specializes in lobbying and ethics law at the firm Steptoe & Johnson. Legislation in the House would end an exemption from FARA for those who register as lobbyists with the House Clerk’s Office and Secretary of the Senate. It also would give the Justice Department new subpoena power to investigate possible FARA violations.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: California Lawmakers Approve Revamp of Sex Misconduct Policy
Sacramento Bee – Kathleen Ronayne (Associated Press) | Published: 6/25/2018

A committee of California lawmakers approved a new policy for how the Senate and Assembly will investigate sexual harassment complaints. Under the new rules, an investigative unit would look at all complaints, collect evidence, and interview witnesses. A panel of outside experts would determine whether allegations are substantiated and make recommendations on potential consequences. Aspects of the policy may require formal approval from the full Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, which could take a vote on the matter by August, said Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine.

Colorado: Ethics Board Asks Councilman to Pull Bill That Could Allow Expensive Gifts Within City
Colorado Public Radio – Ben Markus | Published: 6/22/2018

In a letter to City Councilperson Kevin Flynn, the Denver Board of Ethics requested he withdraw an amendment designed to revise the city’s ethics code, calling it the “wrong solution.” Flynn’s amendment redefines parameters of Denver’s gift policy. It would allow exchanges of things like expensive flight tickets, jackets, and other items between city agencies and elected officials. A media investigation found Denver International Airport has provided more than $420,000 expensive international business class tickets and hotel rooms to the mayor’s office and city council for a variety of purposes, including fact finding trips before key airport contract votes. Outside ethics experts have called the practice into question.

Florida: Ethics Board Member: Report shows top-down ethical ignorance at City Hall
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeffrey Schweers | Published: 6/23/2018

The investigative report and audiotaped interviews produced as part of the state investigation of former Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez point to a top-down culture of easy ethics at City Hall, said key members of the city’s ethics board. The Florida Commission on Ethics unanimously found probable cause that Fernandez misused his position to accept gifts. Bill Hollimon of Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board, said the records show an environment in which it was a common practice to attend Florida State football games in the luxury skybox of a local lobbyist, rub elbows with celebrity chefs, and chat with developers about their projects and what they need from the city.

Kentucky: Kentucky Reviewing State Contract after Bribery Trial
Bowling Green Daily News – Adam Beam (Associated Press) | Published: 6/25/2018

An Illinois-based company’s million-dollar contract with Kentucky could be in trouble after one of its executives testified it paid a state lobbyist on a “success basis” during a recent federal bribery trial. Kentucky pays Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. (CCMSI) about $1 million a year to manage the state’s workers compensation claims. The company won the contract in 2005 and has kept it ever since. State officials recently renewed the contract for another two years. But that was before Jerry Armatis, CCMSI’s executive vice president for sales, testified during James Sullivan’s federal bribery trial. Armatis said how much money they paid Sullivan’s consulting firm depended on whether the company won a state contract.

Maine: Maine Ethics Panel Sharply Cuts Payments to Publicly Financed Candidates
Bangor Daily News – Michael Shepherd | Published: 6/27/2018

The Maine ethics commission moved to cut what could be final payments to taxpayer-funded political campaigns by nearly three-quarters if Gov. Paul LePage and Republican allies in the Legislature have their way in an ongoing dispute. The Clean Election program is in danger of being reduced to near ineffectiveness for the November election. LePage has refused to sign routine financial orders allowing the commission to increase the amount of already appropriated money that it can spend before June 30. House Republicans also have held up a bill fixing a legislative drafting error that would keep the fund from spending money as of July 1.

Minnesota: Meet the Donors Who Give to Both DFL and GOP Candidates in Minnesota
Minnesota Post – Peter Callaghan and Greta Kaul | Published: 6/26/2018

According to the most current campaign finance reports by four leading candidates for governor, five lobbying firms and/or their registered lobbyists show up on the donor lists of at least one Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate and one Republican candidate. In addition to lobbyists and lobbying firms, at least 14 donors have given money to the campaigns of candidates from both political parties. Many of those donors, based on the information listed on disclosure reports, are associated with developers and contractors. Some lobbyists, as well as those in businesses that can be highly dependent on government regulation, need relationships with elected officials regardless of their parties. As a result, they are more likely to spread contributions across party lines than donors who are motivated by ideology.

New York: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Democrat who challenged her party’s establishment – and won
Washington Post – David Weigel | Published: 6/27/2018

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House, suffered a shocking primary defeat on June 26. Crowley was defeated by a political newcomer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former organizer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, who had declared it was time for generational, racial, and ideological change. Ocasio-Cortez’s politics are substantially to the left of most of the party, and even Sanders. In her campaign videos and posters, she came out for universal Medicare, a federal jobs guarantee, free college tuition, and the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ohio: Mike DeWine, Richard Cordray Donors Got Big Contracts from Ohio Attorney General’s Office
Cincinnati Enquier – James McNair (Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism) | Published: 6/26/2018

Ohio voters this year will choose between two candidates for governor: Attorney General Mike DeWine and his predecessor as attorney general, Richard Cordray. A review of records for the past 10 years found a strong correlation between the amount of campaign donations and the revenue received by law firms doing collection work for the attorney general’s office. Firms in the top quarter of contributors during DeWine’s tenure averaged 425 percent more revenue than those in the bottom quarter. During Cordray’s term, the top quarter of donors earned 156 percent more, on average, than the bottom quarter of contributors. Ohio does not screen and select collections contractors based on a formal scoring system. There is no competitive bidding process.

Texas: City Council Expands Campaign Disclosure Rules, Keeps Contribution Limits
Rivard Report – Iris Dimmick | Published: 6/21/2018

The San Antonio City Council approved a bill that will require anyone contributing $100 or more to a council member or mayoral campaign to disclose where they work and their title. Other measures require more frequent campaign finance reports and more contribution restrictions. The council rejected an ordinance that would have increased the donation limit for individuals.

Texas: Supreme Court Upholds Texas Voting Maps That Were Called Discriminatory
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 6/25/2018

The U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to Texas Republicans by reviving electoral districts drawn by the state Legislature that had been thrown out by a lower court for diluting the influence of black and Hispanic voters. The court’s conservative majority ruled the challengers had not done enough to show the Republican-led state Legislature acted with discriminatory intent when it adopted new electoral maps in 2013 for state legislative and congressional seats. The court did rule, however, that one of the state Legislature districts was unlawful.

West Virginia: House Votes to Consider Impeachment of Loughry, Possibly Other Supreme Court Justices
West Virginia Record – Chris Dickerson | Published: 6/26/2018

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to begin an impeachment investigation into members of the state Supreme Court. The investigation will target Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, who was indicted on federal corruption charges, but may also involve other justices. House Resolution 201 empowers the Judiciary Committee to investigate the court and draw up proposed articles of impeachment if committee members decide that path is warranted. But how long the investigation may take is up in the air.