News You Can Use Digest – March 15, 2019

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

 

 

 

Federal:

After Week of Infighting, Democrats Wonder Where to Draw Line on Speech
MSN – Glenn Thrush and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2019

A House resolution that condemned anti-Semitism and virtually every other form of bigotry, passed with unanimous Democratic support. The measure, which began as a rebuke to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and ended as a catchall declaration of tolerance that did not mention her by name, seemed to satisfy no one. Ultimately, the intraparty fight left unanswered a question that transcends partisan politics: In an era of shouting and provocation, how should Congress respond when its members say hateful or hurtful things? Many Democrats worry they have set a new standard, creating a precedent that mandates a major response every time a member transgresses rules of rhetorical decorum that are ill-defined and subject to dispute.

Election Watchdog Hits Jeb Bush’s Super-PAC with Massive Fine for Taking Money from Foreign Nationals
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 3/11/2019

The FEC issued a record fine to Right to Rise USA, the super PAC that backed Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, for accepting a seven-figure donation from a company owned by Chinese nationals who were in business with Bush’s brother, Neil. It is illegal for foreign nationals to be involved in making donations to political committees. Neil Bush solicited a $1.3 million contribution from American Pacific International Capital (APIC), an international investment holding company where he is a board member. Although the contribution to the super PAC came from the American arm of APIC, the company’s owners are Chinese, and Neil Bush initially solicited the money from two Chinese nationals. The FEC fined APIC $550,000 and Right to Rise $390,000.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona: Brnovich to Rule on Legality of Tempe’s Ban Against ‘Dark Money’ in Politics
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/13/2019

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will rule whether cities can impose their own prohibitions on “dark money” in local campaigns. The move comes because Sen. Vince Leach invoked a state law that requires the attorney general to investigate allegations by lawmakers of violations of state laws by local officials. In this case, Leach contends a Tempe initiative approved by voters in 2017 requiring public disclosure of the true source of campaign donations is illegal. What Brnovich decides could affect the ability of cities and towns throughout the state to enact similar laws.

Florida: Former City Manager Rick Fernandez Fined $6K in Ethics Case
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 3/7/2019

The Florida Commission on Ethics agreed to settle civil charges against former Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez that he solicited and accepted free Florida State University football tickets from a city vendor or lobbyist and did not report a catering discount on gift forms. Fernandez will pay $6,000 in fines and face public censure and reprimand as part of the settlement. The commission found probable cause Fernandez committed 20 ethics violations when he accepted the football tickets from lobbyist Adam Corey’s firm and took a nearly $7,000 catering discount at The Edison restaurant for his daughter’s wedding reception. The Edison, which Corey co-owns, got $2.1 million from the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency to rehabilitate the area where the restaurant is located.

Florida: Miami-Dade Ethics Board Dismisses Lobbying Complaint Against Beckham Group
Miami Herald – Joey Flechas | Published: 3/13/2019

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust dismissed a complaint against David Beckham and associates trying to launch a Major League Soccer (MLS) team in Miami. A complaint alleged Beckham, his partners, and their lawyers had failed to properly register to lobby elected officials on matters related to the proposal to build a $1 billion soccer stadium and office park on city-owned land. One part of the complaint involved disclosure of stakeholders owning companies that employ lobbyists in the city. Lobbyists representing the Beckham group were not disclosing the identities of people or entities who own five percent or more of the corporations they are representing, a disclosure required under county law. But it turns out almost nobody was disclosing this due to the poorly formatted forms.

Illinois: Bombshell Filing Details FBI’s Two-Year Probe of Alleged Corruption by Ald. Daniel Solis
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner, Jeff Coen, Stacy St. Clair, and Christy Gutowski | Published: 3/13/2019

A search warrant lays out a laundry list of alleged federal crimes the FBI had compiled against Chicago Ald. Daniel Solis by the time he was confronted and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Solis had received a “steady flow of personal benefits” in exchange for official action as an alderman or the promise of official action, the affidavit alleged, including Viagra pills and prostitution services from a political operative who represented a company seeking an exemption from the city’s water ordinance. As the powerful head of the Zoning Committee, Solis directed a legislative aide to maintain a running list of people and entities he would seek campaign contributions from, along with corresponding information about what official action each contributor needed from him, the affidavit alleged.

Iowa: County Officials Vacationed at Vendor’s Florida Beach Condo
AP News – Ryan Foley | Published: 3/13/2019

Two county treasurers from Iowa recently vacationed with a businessperson they have supported for a lucrative tax website contract, staying at his Florida beach property for free in an apparent violation of state ethics law. The trip highlighted a long, cozy, and ethically questionable relationship between county officials and an important vendor. Iowa law bans public employees from accepting gifts and favors worth three dollars or more from “restricted donors,” who include vendors, lobbyists, and others affected by their official actions. Vendors are barred from offering gifts, and the law does not contain an exception for friends.

Kansas: White Linen Restaurant Bans Lawmakers, Lobbyists After Altercation
Topeka Capital-Journal – Sherman Smith | Published: 3/8/2019

A group of Kansas lawmakers and lobbyists were asked to leave the White Linen restaurant in Topeka and were banned from returning after co-owner Adam Vandonge said they “completely disrespected everyone” with loud, drunken behavior. Vandonge described a boisterous scene that intensified in response to pleas to the 12-person party, which included House Speaker Ron Ryckman to be quiet. “They showed up and just started drinking and drinking and drinking,” said Vandonge. At one point, a manager told Rep. Blaine Finch that he would not be served any more alcohol. After that, servers heard cursing at the table. One member of the party entered the kitchen and began yelling at the sous chef, asking if he knew who Finch was.

Michigan: Dark Money Used to Evade Donor Disclosure Laws in Michigan
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 3/7/2019

A dark money group that spent more than $2 million to help promote Gretchen Whitmer successful gubernatorial bid in the 2018 exploited a legal loophole to avoid disclosing any donors to the state or federal governments, and it is not alone. Progressive Advocacy Trust is one of at least five local Democratic Party accounts in Michigan that have operated in the shadows since at least 2002, according to an investigation. The groups can accept unlimited corporate or union contributions but have evaded all disclosure requirements. It is not clear if the Michigan Democratic Party could shut down local dark money accounts, but the party also utilizes an administrative account that is not subject to disclosure rules for running issue-ad campaigns.

Nevada: RJ Investigation Finds Violations, No Enforcement of County Lobbying Disclosures
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Michael Scott Davidson | Published: 3/9/2019

On hundreds of occasions last year, lobbyists may have failed to disclose communications within five days of meeting with a Clark County commissioner as required by law. The Las Vegas Review-Journal discovered the meetings by comparing lobbying disclosure forms submitted to the county clerk’s office with commissioners’ work calendars and check-in logs outside their offices. The lack of compliance shows the vulnerability of a county lobbying program that operates without a watchdog. Even an easy-to-monitor rule – whether filed disclosure forms are submitted on time – is not tracked. Penalties for noncompliance, written into law a decade ago, have never been imposed by officials. Presented with the newspaper’s findings, county commissioners pledged to keep better tabs on lobbying efforts.

New Mexico: GOP Lawmakers Blast Campaign Finance Bill
Albuquerque Journal – Colleen Heild | Published: 3/13/2019

Campaign finance reporting legislation on its way to the governor is touted as a way to increase transparency and accountability in New Mexico elections. But some Republican lawmakers are crying foul because the measure was amended just days before final consideration to give top legislative leaders of both parties authority to create, in the words of one lawmaker, “super-caucus PACs,” that would be allowed to accept contributions up to $25,000 from a single donor for a primary election and another $25,000 for the general. Further, there would be no limit to in-kind contributions to a candidate from a legislative caucus committee. The additional fundraising ability, which also applies to political parties, puts legislative leaders in position to help boost political campaigns for chosen candidates and initiatives.

New Mexico: Senate Committee Spikes Lobbying Disclosure Bill
New Mexico Political Report – Andrew Oxford (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 3/13/2019

A New Mexico Senate committee shot down legislation that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session. The bill had passed the House with broad support, but the Senate Rules Committee voted to table it after little discussion.

New York: Lobbyists Accused of Misconduct Create Quandary at Capitol
Albany Times Union – Rachel Silberstein | Published: 3/11/2019

Former New York Sen. Jeff Klein was hired by Mercury Public Affairs after he lost his seat in the September primary. He remains under investigation by the Joint Committee on Public Ethics in response to an allegation he forcibly kissed a female staff member. Klein has denied the woman’s claim. Several lawmakers said they have serious reservations about meeting with any lobbyist who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, but they stopped short of saying they would cease doing business with those firms. In a Twitter campaign, a group of former legislative aides have taken aim at some of Mercury’s clients, urging them to ask the firm what it is doing to support employees. The women testified at a hearing, describing a culture that too often tolerates and protects harassers while maligning and ostracizing victims.

Tennessee: How Little-Known Meetings in Hard-to-Find Locations Can Make or Break Legislation in Tennessee
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 3/12/2019

Legislative pre-meetings in the Tennessee General Assembly are informal gatherings where lawmakers and stakeholders openly discuss legislation. Defenders of pre-meetings, which lawmakers refer to as bill review, say they are beneficial because they provide legislators an opportunity to become more informed on legislation, but critics say pre-meetings are the antithesis of how the Legislature should operate. Although they are official meetings, audio and video livestreaming is absent and no notes are taken to provide members of the public with knowledge of what transpires. While much of what happens inside these often hard-to-find rooms is unknown to the public, what is clear is that pre-meetings can make or break a bill.

Vermont:Lawmakers Seek to Modify Ethics Commission Procedures After Scott Ruling
VTDigger.org – Mark Johnson | Published: 3/14/2019

The Vermont State Ethics Commission mishandled a case involving Gov. Phil Scott, according to key lawmakers who plan to “clarify” one of the commission’s few tools. Chairpersons of the House and Senate committees that created the commission said the ethics panel went beyond its legal authority and improperly injected politics into its advisory opinion that said Scott had violated state ethics law. The commission ruled Scott’s ongoing financial relationship with a construction company he owned that still does business with the state was improper. A draft bill would make clear that advisory opinions be general and not involve a specific person or case. They also said advisory opinions should only be issued by the commission’s executive director and not at the request of an outside individual or advocacy group.