News You Can Use Digest – March 2, 2018

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

The True Source of the N.R.A.’s Clout: Mobilization, not donations
MSN – Eric Lipton and Alexander Burns (New York Times) | Published: 2/24/2018

To many of its opponents, a long string of victories is proof the National Rifle Association (NRA) has bought its political support through campaign contributions. But the numbers tell a more complicated story. In states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the NRA derives its political influence instead from a powerful electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls. The NRA’s impact comes, in large part, from the simplicity of the incentives it presents to candidates: letter grades, based on their record on the Second Amendment, that guide the NRA’s involvement in elections.

Federal:

How Skadden, the Giant Law Firm, Got Entangled in the Mueller Investigation
New York Times – Kenneth Vogel and Matthew Goldstein | Published: 2/24/2018

When one of its former lawyers, Alex van der Zwaan, admitted lying to the special counsel investigating Russian election interference, it exposed a profitable line of business that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom mostly keeps quiet: its work for unsavory foreign figures and their Washington, D.C. lobbyists. Robert Mueller’s team has scrutinized Skadden for its own work for the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and its role advising two other K Street firms paid to bolster his government, Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group. Rick Gates, the onetime deputy campaign chairperson for Donald Trump, has admitted he knowingly misled Skadden in a scheme to avoid complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act over his work for Ukraine.

Kushner’s Business Got Loans After White House Meetings
MSN – Jesse Drucker, Kate Kelly, and Ben Protess (New York Times) | Published: 2/28/2018

Two companies made loans worth more than $500 million to Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm after executives met with Kushner at the White House. Kushner is a White House senior adviser and the son-in-law of President Donald Trump. The New York Times reported that private equity firm Apollo Global Management lent $184 million to Kushner Cos., and Citigroup lent Kushner Cos. and one of its partners $325 million. There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say ethics experts. “This is exactly why senior government officials, for as long back as I have any experience, don’t maintain any active outside business interests,” said Don Fox, a former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Ethics Reforms on Hold; Panel Will Study Issues for Next Year
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 3/1/2018

A bill introduced recently would make dozens of changes to Alabama’s ethics law. But legislators will not vote on that bill this year. Instead, it will provide a framework for a newly created Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission. State Attorney General Steve Marshall said individuals and businesses affected by the ethics law have asked that certain parts of it be made clearer, and there is also an effort to tighten the law. “We’ve identified, along with the Ethics Commission, certain areas that may be loopholes or holes in the law that we need to be able to close,” Marshall said.

Arizona – Debbie Lesko Accused of Moving $50K from Campaign to a PAC That Backs … Lesko
Arizona Republic – Ronald Hanson | Published: 2/21/2018

Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko steered $50,000 from her Arizona Senate campaign to a federal PAC that has supported her, a move one of Lesko’s opponents claimed is illegal. Lesko’s campaign committee, Re-elect Debbie Lesko for Senate, gave $50,000 to Conservative Leadership for Arizona, a federal PAC authorized to spend independently of other campaigns. It was created eight days before taking the money from Lesko’s state campaign committee. The new PAC raised almost no other cash, records show. And the PAC used the money to support Lesko with yard signs, while her congressional campaign spent heavily on television ads.

California – A Tiny City with Huge Problems, Maywood Faces Its Biggest Scandal Yet
Los Angeles Times – Ruben Vives and Adam Elmahrek | Published: 2/26/2018

A Los Angeles County investigation into possible corruption in Maywood has set its sights on a broad swath that includes four current and former council members, 13 companies, five current and former city administrators, and one activist who dresses up as a clown. A search warrant suggests the wide-ranging investigation dovetails with the suspicion many Maywood residents have had about politics in the city for years. Maywood is one of Southern California’s smallest and most densely packed cities. But for its tiny size, it has suffered oversized problems for more than a decade.

Illinois – Cook County Assessor Berrios Goes to Court to Keep Property Tax Lawyers’ Campaign Contributions Flowing
Chicago Tribune – Hal Dardick and Jason Grotto | Published: 2/28/2018

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios asked a judge to void county ethics rules that place limits on campaign contributions to elected officials and candidates from those who seek “official action” from the county. Lawyers for Berrios’ argued the county rules violate the state constitution because only the Illinois Legislature has authority to set campaign contribution limits. The county, however, maintained it has the power to set its own, more-restrictive limits on campaign money to avoid quid pro quo politics. Since October, Berrios has collected more than $276,000 from those attorneys, about four-fifths of what he has received in individual contributions during that time.

Missouri – Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens Indicted for Felony Invasion of Privacy
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott and Robert Patrick | Published: 2/23/2018

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge. He was accused of photographing a nude or partially nude person without the person’s knowledge or consent. The indictment said Greitens then transmitted the photo in a way that allowed it to be viewed on a computer, which prosecutors said made the crime a felony rather than a misdemeanor. The charge comes weeks after the governor acknowledged having an extramarital affair in 2015, but denied reports he blackmailed the woman or took a nude photo of her without permission. Greitens, who has been governor for just over a year, has resisted calls to resign, insisting he did nothing illegal.

New York – In Spite of Executive Order, Cuomo Takes Campaign Money from State Appointees
New York Times – Shane Goldmacher, Brian Rosenthal, and Augustin Armendariz | Published: 2/24/2018

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has accepted donations for his re-election campaign from his own political appointees. The New York Times reports Cuomo has taken nearly $900,000 from two dozen of his appointees since taking office, as well as at least $1.3 million from spouses, children, and businesses of the appointees. The contributions come despite an executive order signed by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer banning campaign donations from most political appointees in the state. Cuomo renewed that order when he entered office. But Cuomo has reinterpreted the directive to only apply to contributions from appointees who could be fired at any time by the governor, as opposed to those appointed to set terms in office.

Oklahoma – Step Up Campaign Highlights Gap in State Disclosure Laws
Ada News – Paul Monies and Trevor Browen (Oklahoma Watch) | Published: 2/25/2018

The plan by Step Up Oklahoma to raise taxes on cigarettes, fuel, and energy failed to pass, but it highlighted a gap in state law that keeps much of the funding and spending on both sides of the issue a secret. Step Up Oklahoma, which billed itself as a grassroots coalition of business and civic groups, bought or enabled television and radio ads, robo-calls, mailers, endorsements, one-to-one outreach, and the deployment of registered lobbyists of supporting companies. Although disclosure of sources and amounts of money spent are typically required when groups directly try to influence the election of candidates and votes on ballot questions, little must be disclosed when a group or business tries to influence legislation.

Oregon – Receiving a Blanket Posed Ethical Quandary for Oregon Senator
Portland Oregonian – Andrew Selsky (Associated Press) | Published: 2/27/2018

Ted Ferrioli, the Senate Republican leader in Oregon until he stepped down in January, was presented with a beautiful wool blanket by leaders of Indian tribes as a parting gift, causing an ethical dilemma. Struggling over what to do with a blanket with a price tag of $249 shows how many public servants try to walk a fine line on gift laws. And it illustrates the scope of issues the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and its staff are tasked with dealing with.

Rhode Island – Facing Threat of Expulsion, Sen. Kettle Quits
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg and Patrick Anderson | Published: 2/22/2018

A Rhode Island senator facing charges that accuse him of extorting a teenage page for sex has resigned. The move comes a day after Senate leaders took the extraordinary step of introducing a resolution to expel Nicholas Kettle, the Senate’s minority whip. No Rhode Island lawmaker has been expelled since the state constitution went into effect in 1843. Kettle was arrested and charged with extorting a male page for sex on two occasions in 2011 and with video voyeurism that involved trading nude photographs of his ex-girlfriend and a New Hampshire woman taken without their consent. The page would have been 16 or 17 years old at the time of the alleged extortion.

West Virginia – Coal Country Divides Over an Unrepentant Boss’s Senate Bid
New York Times – Trip Gabriel | Published: 2/26/2018

When mining company owner Don Blankenship finished his one-year prison sentence for conspiracy to violate safety laws, rather than express remorse or contrition over the explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men in 2010, he announced a run for the U.S. Senate. His return to the public eye has reawakened painful memories in West Virginia, especially for relatives of the disaster’s victims. At one of Blankenship’s meet-and-greet events with voters, protesters held signs saying: “You must be joking.” But in the coal fields, many people do not think his candidacy is a joke. Blankenship has found support there for his claim to be a victim himself, pursued unfairly by federal prosecutors and mine safety inspectors.

West Virginia – Justice Company Rep Has Unique Access to Capitol Among Lobbyists
Charleston Gazette-Mail – Jake Zuckerman | Published: 2/24/2018

Among the more than 100 registered lobbyists in West Virginia, only Larry Puccio has an electronic access card to the Capitol. Puccio represents The Greenbrier resort and Southern Coal Corp., both of which are owned by Gov. Jim Justice. The card grants access to doors not open to the general public and can be used to avoid sometimes-lengthy security lines at the public entrances. House Bill 2965 would allow any person to apply for an electronic access card to the Capitol complex, which would cost $250 for people who are not state employees.

Wisconsin – State Elections Commission Chief Stepping Down Amid Criticism from Republicans
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Jason Stein | Published: 2/27/2018

Wisconsin’s top elections official, Michael Haas, says he will not continue in that role, ending a showdown between the state Elections Commission, which backed Haas, and Senate Republicans who demanded his ouster. Haas said he plans to keep working temporarily at the commission as an attorney, but intends to eventually leave to pursue other opportunities. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission voted to name ethics specialist Colette Reinke as the interim replacement for former Administrator Brian Bell, who also resigned after the Senate rejected his confirmation. Reinke will serve for 90 days and not apply for the permanent job.

 

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