News You Can Use Digest – June 9, 2017

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

 

 

 

National:

How Donald Trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money into His Business
Forbes – Dan Alexander | Published: 6/6/2017

The Eric Trump Foundation apparently paid President Donald Trump’s businesses $1.2 million between 2007 and 2015 for expenses related to the foundation’s annual charity event at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, according to a report in Forbes. Eric Trump said the Trump Organization allowed his nonprofit foundation to use the golf course for free and covered most expenses for the golf tournament. But Forbes found IRS filings indicate otherwise. Forbes reported the Trump National Golf Club charged the Eric Trump Foundation tens, and later hundreds, of thousands of dollars each year for the one-day event, while donors were led to believe a much bigger portion of their money would go directly to the fundraiser’s chosen cause, children’s cancer research.

Federal:

James Comey Testifies: Former FBI director says he helped reveal details of conversations with Trump
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima | Published: 6/8/2017

Former FBI Director James Comey asserted that President Donald Trump fired him to interfere with his investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 election and its ties to the Trump campaign. Comey accused the administration of spreading “lies, plain and simple” about him and the FBI in the aftermath of his abrupt firing. Comey also described intense discomfort about one-on-one conversations between him and the president, saying he decided he immediately needed to document the discussions in memos. Comey said he helped reveal details of his private conversations with Trump because he thought doing so would spur the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the administration.

Lobbyists, Industry Lawyers Were Granted Ethics Waivers to Work in Trump Administration
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory | Published: 6/7/2017

New disclosures offer additional evidence that lobbyists and industry executives who can now shape policies benefitting their former clients and companies have been allowed to work in the Trump administration. The documents were released in response to a demand by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) for details on how the Trump administration is enforcing the ethics policies. One unexpected outcome was proof the Obama administration, despite a much touted promise to make all of its ethics waivers public, stopped providing them to the OGE. The “revolving door” cases in the Trump administration generally involve individuals who had been retained by for-profit clients, and then took up matters that could benefit these former clients.

Top Intelligence Official Told Associates Trump Asked Him If He Could Intervene with Comey on FBI Russia Probe
Washington Post – Adam Entous | Published: 6/6/2017

The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe. The events involving Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to deny publicly the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the 2016 election, as The Washington Post reported in May. The interaction with Coats indicates Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail the FBI’s probe.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Ethics Commission Declines to Make Site Consultants Register as Lobbyists
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 6/7/2017

The Alabama Ethics Commission rejected its staff’s opinion that site consultants for companies considering moving to the state are required under certain circumstances to register as lobbyists under the ethics law. Staff members said the companies who hire the consultants to scout locations and incentive opportunities from local governments would have to register as principals. The commission declined to vote on the recommendation after economic development officials said would hurt their recruiting efforts because companies place a high value on confidentiality when they are considering a new location.

Arizona – Corruption Case Snares Lobbyist at the Center of Arizona Power Politics
Arizona Republic – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Dan Nowicki | Published: 5/26/2017

Among the individuals named in a federal indictment was one who has touched almost every corner of Arizona power politics: lobbyist Jim Norton. A familiar figure for years at the Capitol, Norton was among Gov. Doug Ducey’s earliest political backers and a friend since college. His firm helped guide U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs to victory last November. He is also the business community’s leading voice at the statehouse. Prosecutors say Norton was “a conduit” for bribes that water-company owner George Johnson is accused of paying to former Arizona Corporation Commission Chairperson Gary Pierce. Authorities allege the money helped secure commission approval of higher rates for Johnson Utilities.

District of Columbia – D.C. Mayor Bowser Fined $13,000 for Illegal Campaign Contributions
Washington Post – Aaron Davis | Published: 6/7/2017

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign committee was fined $13,000 for taking campaign donations over legal limits during her successful run for office three years ago. Bowser’s campaign kept over $11,000 in illegal contributions from 13 developers, contractors, and Sanford Capital, a landlord her administration has since been slow to fine for more than 1,000 housing-code violations. Some of the developers who contributed more than the legal limit to Bowser in 2014 were the same ones who went on to donate to a PAC that Bowser’s allies set up but later abandoned during her first year in office amid criticism from city council members that it was creating a perception of “pay-to-play” politics.

Florida – Someone Raised $200K from Miami Beach Bigwigs, But No One Will Say Why
Miami Herald – Nicholas Nehamas and Joey Flechas | Published: 6/5/2017

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco says he does not know a thing about a mysterious South Florida group that raised $200,000 from city bigwigs last year. But interviews with two of those donors suggest the PAC is raising money in his name, and that Grieco, who is running for mayor, solicited at least one contribution. Miami Beach lobbyists, vendors, and real-estate developers all appear on the list of donors to People for Better Leaders, exactly the type of power players whose contributions led to a public outcry during the last election cycle and, ultimately, to stricter campaign finance laws.

Kentucky – Judge Tosses Ethics Rules for Kentucky Lobbyists, Lawmakers
U.S. News & World Report – Adam Beam (Associated Press) | Published: 6/7/2017

A federal judge ruled Kentucky lawmakers can accept gifts from lobbyists and that lobbyists can make campaign contributions to candidates for the Legislature. The state law banning lobbyists giving gifts to lawmakers includes “anything of value,” which U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman said was too vague. State regulators said the laws were meant to prevent bribery at the Capitol. Most of the rules were enacted after “Operation BOPTROT,” a 1992 FBI probe that exposed 15 current or former legislators who sold their votes. Officials with the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance said they were reviewing the order and were considering an appeal.

Missouri – What You Need to Know about Missouri’s Evolving Campaign Finance Laws
Missouri Times – Travis Zimpfer | Published: 6/6/2017

On June 20, Missouri’s campaign finance laws will once again experience changes for the second time in roughly six months. The Missouri Ethics Commission updated their own primer on the constitutional amendment and how a recent decision by a federal judge that found many provisions of the law unconstitutional affected it. Commission Director James Klahr issued an advisory opinion that political party committees in the House and Senate are not bound to the $25,000 aggregate limit in accordance with the ruling.

North Carolina – US Supreme Court Affirms NC Legislative Districts as Racial Gerrymanders
Raleigh News and Observer – Anne Blythe | Published: 6/5/2017

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down 28 state House and Senate districts in North Carolina because they violated the rights of black voters. But the justices rejected the court’s order to redraw the districts and hold a special election. The action by the justices sends the matter back to the lower court, which could order new districts in time for the regular cycle of elections in 2018.

Pennsylvania – A Philly Teacher’s Stunts Draw Interest from The Board of Ethics
Philadelphia Inquirer – Chris Brennan | Published: 6/5/2017

It looks as if George Bezanis, a Central High School social studies teacher who has used a billboard and a banner plane to protest the lack of a new union contract for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, will be butting heads with the city Board of Ethics. An attorney for the ethics board told Beznis the billboard and banner plane were “reportable lobbying under the city’s lobbying law.” Bezanis needed to register as a lobbyist, the attorney said in the message, or face a financial penalty.

South Carolina – Firms Named in SC Corruption Probe Have Hundreds of Millions at Stake
The State – Jamie Self and Avery Wilks | Published: 6/4/2017

South Carolina’s largest special interests know the time they spend working the state’s lawmakers at the Capitol is well spent. But was the help they got from one of the state’s most influential political families legal? Indicted Rep. Rick Quinn, whose father operates a political consulting empire, stands accused of voting and lobbying in the Legislature on behalf of special interests that, prosecutors allege, paid him through his direct-mail business and his father’s firm. He also is charged with failing to disclose accepting nearly $4.6 million he received from special interests that lobby the Legislature.  The companies that Quinn is charged with illegally helping are big fish in the pool of special interests vying for influence in Columbia.

Tennessee – Record $465,000 Fine Issued Against Jeremy Durham for ‘Egregious’ Campaign Finance Violations
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert | Published: 6/7/2017

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance levied the largest fine it has ever imposed against former state Rep. Jeremy Durham for hundreds of campaign finance law violations. Among the findings in an audit were allegations Durham used campaign funds to improperly buy sunglasses, suits, and spa products, and inappropriately loaned thousands of dollars to his wife, a prominent Republican fundraiser and professional gambler. Registry members occasionally haggled over the individual amounts for each violation, trying to determine how egregious Durham’s actions were while also expressing a desire to use the penalties to prevent future wrongdoing. In total, the registry fined Durham $465,500 for more than 300 violations.

Wisconsin – Critics Deride Secrecy, Limits on Investigations by State Ethics Commission as It Nears 1-Year Mark
Wisconsin State Journal – Mark Sommerhauser | Published: 6/4/2017

Critics say it is difficult to assess the work of Wisconsin’s new ethics commission because much of what it does is kept secret. Current and former commissioners and other observers say they have seen some heartening signs from the six-member panel, which acts as the state’s watchdog of political campaigns and candidates, public officials, and those who seek to influence them. But critics say the commission is handcuffed by legal limits on what it can disclose about its efforts to enforce campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws. It also is much more limited than its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board, in its ability to investigate alleged violations of those laws.

 

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.