News You Can Use Digest – June 8, 2018

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

 

 

 

Federal:

A Courtside View of Scott Pruitt’s Cozy Ties with a Billionaire Coal Baron
MSN – Steve Eder, Hiroko Tabuchi, and Eric Lipton (New York Times) | Published: 6/2/2018

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt enjoyed special access for a University of Kentucky basketball game last December, scoring two of the best seats in the arena in a section reserved for season-ticket holders who had donated at least $1 million to the university. Pruitt and his son sat in seats belonging to Joseph Craft III, a billionaire coal executive who has engaged in an aggressive campaign to reverse the Obama administration’s environmental crackdown on the coal industry. Pruitt’s attendance at the game followed a year of regulatory victories for Craft, who maintains close ties to Pruitt even as he has lobbied the EPA on issues important to his company, Alliance Resource Partners.

Trade Groups in Turmoil in the Trump Era
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/7/2018

Trade associations, traditionally the backbone of K Street’s lobbying corridor, find themselves in the throes of disruption. These multimillion-dollar organizations are clamoring for ways to boost membership, and sometimes even keep their doors open, as they work to stay relevant amid the political and policy uncertainty of Washington during the era of President Trump. A number of high-profile, highly paid association chiefs have left or are on their way out, while some groups have lost significant members or are folding into other organizations, a sign that associations feel the dual storm of political turmoil and increasing pressure from their membership.

Trump Lawyer Payments Fuel AT&T Shareholders’ Push to Know More About Political Spending
Dallas Morning News – Melissa Repko | Published: 6/6/2018

Long before AT&T found itself under fire for hiring President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, some of the company’s shareholders sent up a warning: secrecy surrounding how it spends money in Washington, D.C. could put its reputation at risk. For five years, a group of shareholders has pushed AT&T to disclose how much it funds industry groups and tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activities. Companies are facing pressure from shareholders to reveal how they spend money to influence legislation on Capitol Hill. But those concerns took on new relevancy at AT&T when it became public that the company paid $600,000 to Cohen to advise on various matters.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: An Alabama Sheriff Kept $750,000 Meant to Buy Food for Inmates. Voters Just Replaced Him.
Seattle Times – Eli Rosenberg (Washington Post) | Published: 6/6/2018

Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, criticized for making money from the county jail’s food program, was defeated in a primary election. Alabama gives sheriffs money to feed each prisoner, and sheriffs got to pocket anything that is left over. It was reported that Entrekin pocketed more than $750,000 over the past three years from a source he identified as “food provisions,” according to ethics disclosures. It was also reported that Entrekin and his wife purchased a home for $740,000 in September.

California: Facebook Tried to Rein in Fake Ads. It Fell Short in a California Race.
MSN – Sheera Frenkel (New York Times) | Published: 6/3/2018

Facebook has faced difficulties as the company aims to prevent manipulation of its ad system in elections, especially as the midterms loom this November. While Facebook has introduced several measures to improve the transparency of political ads on its platform, some groups and individuals appear to be finding ways to flout the new restrictions, and company has not been able to catch them. That raises questions about whether there are other gaps.

Florida: Behind Florida’s Payments to Victims, Links to Lobbyists
Gainesville Sun – Gary Fineout (Associated Press) | Published: 6/4/2018

Of the $37.5 million in claims bills – payments to victims and families harmed by government actions – approved over the past two years, $16.9 million was awarded to victims represented by a lobbyist who is the brother of Florida’s outgoing House speaker, Richard Corcoran. Lobbying records show Michael Corcoran’ firm collected at least $89,000 in fees last year for its work on claims bills and is in line to receive tens of thousands more this year. During the 2013 and 2014 sessions, legislators did not approve a single claims bill, in part due to opposition by then-Senate President Don Gaetz, who said it seemed bills were passing based not on their substance, but the effectiveness of the lobbyists behind them.

Louisiana: Louisiana Lawmakers Are Pushing Bills That Benefit Their Own Businesses. And It’s Perfectly Legal.
ProPublica – Rebekah Allen (New Orleans Advocate) | Published: 6/6/2018

Louisiana’s ethics laws allow legislators to write, advocate for, and cast votes on bills that would enrich themselves, their relatives, and their clients, as long as others in the same affected industry would benefit similarly. Regardless of the law, watchdogs say, such advocacy is troubling. If a lawmaker steps over the line while pushing a bill to benefit himself or herself, complaints can only be brought forward by other members of the Legislature, not the public at large. “Would you want someone on a jury who will gain financially depending on the outcome of a particular decision? It just shows the craziness of our system,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Missouri: In About-Face, New Missouri Gov. Parson Says He Won’t Accept Lobbyist Gifts
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 6/6/2018

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will abide by an executive order signed by his predecessor last year that prohibits him from accepting any gifts from lobbyists. The ban extends to his taxpayer-funded staff as well. The announcement is an about-face for Parson, who was the only statewide elected official to take any lobbyist gifts in 2017. During his six years in the state Senate, Parson and his staff accepted more than $30,000 worth of lobbyist gifts. The order also prohibits staff members from lobbying the administration upon termination of their employment.

Oregon: Former Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes to File for Bankruptcy, Attorney Says
Portland Oregonian – Jeff Manning and Hillary Borrud | Published: 6/6/2018

Cylvia Hayes, Oregon’s former first lady, will file for bankruptcy, in part to get out from under about $125,000 in debts and penalties she accrued in her legal battle to keep her emails secret. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission found Hayes misused her position as first lady and a policy adviser to secure consulting contracts worth more than $200,000. Her lawyers and the commission are now trying to reach a settlement on the fines, which could run as much as $110,000.

South Carolina: Longtime Richland Sen. Courson Resigns, Enters Guilty Plea in Corruption Probe
The State – John Monk | Published: 6/4/2018

South Carolina Sen. John Courson pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and resigned his seat. He also agreed to cooperate in the investigation of corruption at the statehouse that has resulted in guilty pleas and resignations from three other lawmakers. Courson’s plea came as his trial was about to begin on charges of misconduct in office and converting campaign money for his personal use. He said he sent campaign contributions to his political consultant, Richard Quinn & Associates, who would give him a portion back to cover years of unpaid personal campaign reimbursements. State law does not allow candidates to do that. Courson also failed to itemize the reimbursements on his disclosure reports.

South Carolina
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson Hasn’t Severed Ties to Controversial Quinn Family
Greenville News – Kirk Brown (Anderson Independent Mail) | Published: 6/4/2018

Despite years of negative publicity and withering criticism from political rivals, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has not cut his financial ties to the controversial Quinn family. As part of his bid for a third term, records show Wilson has made $117,000 in campaign expenditures since 2015 to Richard Quinn & Associates, Richard Quinn’s daughter, Rebecca Mustian, and her company, Spring Strategies. Those payments came while Richard Quinn, his firm, and his son, former state Rep. Rick Quinn, were at the center of a statehouse corruption probe. Mustian was not implicated in the investigation.

Washington: Facebook and Google Get Sued by Washington State Over Political Ads
Governing – Jim Brunner (Tribune News Service) | Published: 6/4/2018

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed campaign finance lawsuits against Google and Facebook, alleging the companies “failed to maintain legally required information on Washington state political advertising” placed online since 2013. Ferguson said companies that accept political advertising are required to keep tabs on who buys the advertising, and make that information available to the public. Collected information includes the name of the candidate or measure, dates the ads ran, who sponsored it, and the total cost spent. Once focused largely on television, campaigns have increasingly turned to online advertising in recent elections.